Tag Archives: Worcester Shakespeare Company

The Taming of the Screw

Couplets have been rhymed and codpieces have been salted away.

The Worcester Shakespeare Company bids farewell to another great summer of outdoor theater at The New Napkin Stage in Whitinsville, Mass.

For the last several years we’ve raised up an ongoing reproduction of a Shakespearean stage (based on London’s Globe Theatre) and taken it down when the play has concluded its run.

This makes us not a little melancholic-


But the show mustn’t go on…


Then the hammer says to the mallet, you catch my drift?







Mel and Chris are always there to help-



Mr. Starbuck wilt thou not chase the pumpkin spice latte?


Chiaroscuro or gtfo



Some of the players themselves came to lend a hand in the deconstruction-



Bucket o’ Pins, a seasonal delicacy-


Brace yourself-


So much drama and yet the post is still good as newel-


One of our crew (whose name begins with CHRIS) was once a roadie for a certain band…


If you think that is real marble then you are in the throes of a phallicy-


Phallicy, because, you know, phallic.

Arise, I bid thee!


Soon to be roaming numerals-




When Broseph needs a smoke now, and then-


So they loaded up the truck and moved to Chiltonville…








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Playing marbles

If you give an artist a paintbrush…


She’ll paint things–

Like pillars made out of pine. She’ll paint them to look like marble.

And if she paints the top-


She’ll want to paint the bottom.

Before the brushes are cleaned, she may as well paint other things–

Here’s a panel with an Elizabethan-inspired sign of the zodiac.

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I’m a Pisces and I like a short walk to the pub–Pen Austin

And another…

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And more still, until all 12 signs are ready to be put in the heavens above.

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To fix them in the heavens above, they’ll need to fashion a frame for the panels.


And the panels will need those painted pillars to bear the weight of the heavens.





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If you make the over and above, you’ll need a stage below on which humans may do their business on this mortal coil.

So, with a little help, the New Napkin Stage is raised by the players.


Their leader will need a proper vantage from which to view the proceedings.

He’ll gain a balcony.

But a balcony wants railings and railings want support.

So they’ll call upon a bearded joiner to turn 45 balusters on a spring pole lathe.


These are made from green oak, in the style of the sort turned by a German woman for Shakespeare’s Globe in London.

These, in turn, were made in the style of those wrought 400 years past.

She turned 500 or so.

Once the bearded guy takes his foot off the lathe and the balcony is set up, the other bearded guy can take it all in.

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Things began to make sense.

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Once the pillars are painted, the heavens secured, and the stage fashioned, the players and their leader will want to perform plays.

And if they perform, they’ll want people to come see them.

So they’ll plug their play and make room for everyone to come see it in a special place against a river in an old mill town.

On the Piazza

Photo by John Riedell–http://heart-shaped-boy.com/

And some of the people will see the marble pillars and wonder how they were made…


If you give an artist a paintbrush…



The Worcester Shakesepeare Company’s production of Shakespeare’s, The Merry Wives of Windsor continues Thursdays-Sundays now through August 24th:  www.worcestershakespearecompany.org

Pen Austin is a plasterer/artist from Leicester, UK and Nantucket, MA. Her work is the best. Never challenge her to an arm wrestle, however. 

This year’s work on the stage builds on last year’s— for further info, contact MLB Restorations at 1 508 277-4468

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All the world’s a stage…

The final 2013 performances of the Worcester Shakespeare Company’s production of The Merchant of Venice go on this weekend, August 23-25th. Here’s to good weather and broken legs!

Our part in this drama was to get the stage to a presentable stage for the 2013 season. This meant some late hours for Mr. Burrey in his workshop:


Michael working the stairs. Treadest thou on me.

The newel post spoke with an Elizabethan flourish…



And was joined into the stairs…


Frame and paneling for the rear stage wall gave the stage depth. All the joints were hand-cut and the pieces hand-planed.


I was a little worried that the period appropriate colors would be tres gauche and reminiscent of a fast food joint…


But the linseed oil-based paint really hinted at the spectacle which any self-respecting London play-goer would reasonably expect in the early 17th-century.

So from Plymouth to Whitinsville, this year’s final touches departed.


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Moving Co.

The colorful front steps really popped against the stage and gave a preview to next season’s stage finishing. Skirt boards trimmed both front and sides. LIke the steps, these will be further embellished with color and moldings in time for next year’s performance.


The rear wall frame and panels were stood and joined ere WSC’s first performance.


An MLB joint. Eat your heart out, Spike Lee!


Artistic Director Mel Cobb and Michael have big plans for significant additions to the stage. In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to do in the greater Worcester area this weekend, hie thee to Whitinsville post-haste ere ye players and their play exeunt!


Photo courtesy of “Alternatives”

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In The Pines

Because Leadbelly wasn’t singing about white oak, no sir…


MPDYER, from The New Bedford Whaling Museum (http://whalingmuseum.org/–a museum on my bucket list) made the keen observation from a picture in a Blue Oak post the other day that the differential rate of decay between two newly uncovered tenons in our Sagamore project had less to do with God’s Will and more to do with one being white oak and the other being a pine. We’re still not sure exactly which type of pine, but if I had to guess, I’d say pitch pine. The local flora is teeming with pitch pines, which are used fairly commonly in old timber frames in the area. So thanks, MPDYER! From this time forward, we are calling you CSI-MPDYER!

And speaking of CSI-ing, look what we found out today:


A simple piece of riven pine lathe from an early 18th-century saltbox addition, you say? Well, you may say that and you’d be right, I reckon. But look more closely: The grain is more weathered than it should be for an internal application and it’s been worked down to a taper. Why? Any guesses? Anyone?  Bueller?? It’s a re-used clapboard! It’s been split along its width to form narrower lath. Groovy, yes? The taper is a skyved end–a short bevel to overlap with the next clapboard–also skyved–continuing along the course.

Michael has seen the same practice done before in other early frames in the area, notably the Berrybrook School in Duxbury, on whose grounds an early joiner’s shop was recently discovered: http://www.boston.com/yourtown/duxbury/2012/11/25/eighteenth-century-woodworker-shop-found-duxbury-said-one-kind/uzWst9in35bHgVoobDS5xK/singlepage.html.

It makes a boat-load of sense, using clapboards which have good, splittable grain and some life left. And you thought recycling was a contemporary phenomenon! I can see it now–you roll your squeaky wheelbarrow into the local transfer station, pitch your spent shingles and clapboards into the single stream/townbrooke bin, leave your goose grease in the special materials section, and dump your puritanical hand-wringing in the yard waste area; actually, you take that home with you–you can’t leave that at the Pilgrim Transfer Station.

Speaking of recycling and other “green” methods of building a house, we found this in the cavity behind the oak post we are replacing:


I don’t know much about corn cobs being used as a form of insulation, but I understand it’s a practice in some places and that it has some value. The scarce amount we found didn’t seem to point to anything more than the frenetic comings and goings of rodentia, however. Readers, do you have any experience with corn cobs in walls? (Is that a euphemism?)

One year ago this week:



We were knee deep in a marsh gathering thatch for pilgrim houses. Funny how much things can change in a year, isn’t it? Seems like a really loooong time ago…


Anyhoo, on another note: The last performance of this year’s Worcester Shakespeare Company’s, The Merchant of Venice, is Sunday, August 25th. If you’re in lovely New England within the next fortnight, get thee to ye Whitin Mill and seest both our pretty stage and a great performance! Blue Oak will squeeze out another post on the stage’s 2013 finishing this week.

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A pound of flesh, please…


It’s right there–in the middle.

There was a tidy write-up of one of the initial performances of The Worcester Shakespeare Company‘s The Merchant of Venice in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette recently:


We’re happy to say that it was a very favorable review. Even our recreated Shakespeare stage made a cameo in the article.


But the stage–dubbed McCurdy’s “New Napkin” Stage”, in homage to one of its designers and the medium on which it was designed–was built in Plymouth and it needed to commute to Whitinsville in time for the Companys’ first performance.

So we loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly…


What a great old mill town along The Mumford River–


But enough site-seeing. We had a stage to raise.


The Riverside Piazza is the framed by the Whitinsville Mill and the nice folks at Alternatives. It’s an ideal setting for a play. Many of the company’s actors were there to help us. This was not a rehearsal.


Artistic director and actor Mel Cobb and Chris Gates, production manager, were also there to meet us. Mr. Burrey, an accomplished playa himself, would brook no idleness among the thespians, and immediately set them a-work.


Truthfully, the actors were VERY helpful and gracious in their helping. After all, how many actors get to help build, then perform on a stage plucked from the Elizabethan era? I imagine it would be like playing an exact replica Mozart’s violin…or something like that.


Once the supporting timbers were fit, trenails followed. Each actor had a turn driving an oak pin to hold fast the joint:





Including Mel himself, who seemed all-too-comfortable with mallet in hand:


There are rumors of Mel having had a bit part in the original Hawaii 5-O.

Joists and floorboards made their entrance, stage right:



The posts followed. Chris was a natural using the beetle:


There are rumors that Chris used to drive tent stakes for the circus…

As the shadows drew longer, the actors went to rehearse. We wound the day down by setting lintels between the posts and attaching a temporary set of stairs.


The company returned, ready to take this stage for a spin in its new home. Mel put the day’s work in context, reminding the players of their “ownership” and stewardship of the stage and of the unique opportunity it presented them. At Mel’s behest, the actors took a stroll around the stage in a circle for a few moments. I could only imagine it helped them “hear” and feel the floorboards and frame. It seemed almost a form of meditation.


Stage rehearsal in Whitinsville began for the first time.


Performances of The Merchant of Venice continue through August 25th. Visit the Worcester Shakespeare Company’s web site for more information: http://www.worcestershakespearecompany.org./

If you are interested in auditioning, offering your expertise in box office, stage management, design, running crew or helping in any other way, please email to: info@worcestershakespearecompany.org.

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Stay tuned for more posts on the snappy finishing of the 2013 version of The McCurdy “New Napkin” Stage…!

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The Scottish play and other superstitions

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No one told me that I wasn’t supposed to say “Macbeth” on stage…

I mean, clearly you don’t change your socks during a hitting streak, you put your pillows on left to right, and you most certainly keep it to yourself when a pitcher has held opponents hitless through 7 innings.

But uttering that word while constructing a Shakespearean stage for the Worcester Shakespeare Company in the lovely former mill-town of Whitinsville, MA? My bad, good people. If the gudgeon gives way or a spindle splinters, it’s on me. Let’s back up a little and see if we can’t wrest some good karma from the humble beginnings of this project’s origins…

Out of his self-drawing web, he gives us note  King Henry VIII: I, i


As with so many good endeavors, it’s helpful to have input and to have plans. Michael and Pret (above) along with internationally renowned timber framer Peter McCurdy and Worcester Shakespeare Company’s Artistic Director Mel Cobb put their heads together and drew up an historically-minded design which Elizabethan actors would have been very familiar with.

Peter, you should know, was the primary builder of the Globe Theatre reconstruction in London. Just a little something for his resume. And Mel, well, Mel was part of the inaugural performance on that very stage, which involved  an actual broken leg and a guy plastering who knew the lines.

When workmen strive to do better than well   King John: IV, ii

The stage began humbly, its framing elements delivered to Michael’s yard.


This is direct evidence of the first performance on this stage!

Joinery fell out…


and pieces started to fall together as they had been drawn up and had once been.


Work continued apace…



and the principal carpenter put on quite a performance:


Click on me for gif magic!

Though from an humble stock, undoubtedly   King Henry VIII: IV, ii

Some good and talented friends came to help out, including teacher Rich F. from The North Bennet Street School in Boston. Rich laid floorboards like a BOSS. He is as talented as he is humble. If you’re ever driving north on route 93 into Boston, you’re probably stuck in traffic. When you get towards the gas tanks in Dot on your right (hey Maaaky Maaak!) have a look over to your left at the church steeple behind the windmill. Rich and his second-year North Bennet students made that.


“Bigger Hammer Hardware Company how may I direct your call?”

Go, go, cheer up thy hungry-starved men  King Henry VI, part I: I, v


There’s more than one merchant in Venice.

More relative than this: the play ‘s the thing   Hamlet: II, ii

Things began to look…staged!


Mel arrived early for the stage’s first rehearsal.


He was followed by Worcester Shakespeare Company actors, who were given a “staged” briefing and some historic context by Michael.


Onto rehearsal. This summer’s play: The Merchant of Venice.


What a great group of kids: One’s in pre-med, several are NY-based actors, another from France.

You do their work, and they shall have good luck:   A Midsummer Night’s Dream: II, i

I may have ill-referenced that bloody Scottish noble while upon the stage, but the white dove who landed above us counts for something other than a Stevie Nicks song, amiright?


Playahs play!


to be continued…

For more information on The Worcester Shakespeare Company’s summer 2013 production of The Merchant of Venice, see their website: http://www.worcestershakespearecompany.org/

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