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PUBLIC WORKS Musical Adaptation of William Shakespeare's
TWELFTH NIGHT

Conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub 
Music and Lyrics by Shaina Taub
Choreography by Lorin Latarro
Directed by Oskar Eustis and Kwame Kwei-Armah

Featuring Kim Blanck (Femal

Photo: Joan Marcus
From left, Daniel Hall, Lori Brown-Niang, Shaina Taub, and Shuler Hensley in “Twelfth Night” at the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park. Brown-Niang’s peignoir is usually “the first to go” on exceptionally hot nights when the feathers start shedding.

On this second day of fall in Massachusetts, the temperature was only 45 degrees at 6 a.m., when I wrote this. I felt very glad that 2018’s overpowering heat and humidity were past.

I can only imagine what it must have been like for outdoor actors under fierce stage lighting in summer 2018. At American Theatre, there’s a fun article about designing costumes for actors performing in all kinds of weather.

Billy McEntee wrote, “Across the country, as actors and audiences endure rain, heat, and bugs to present and partake of free professional performances of the Bard’s classics, one group of designers has a special challenge: costume designers. …

“ ‘Designing for outdoor environments is challenging yet fascinating,’ said Ying-Jung Chen, the costume designer for Independent Shakespeare Company’s ‘Titus Andronicus’ in Los Angeles. … ‘I’ve learned a lot through each outdoor experience about fabric technology and construction techniques.’ …

“It’s the dry heat that can prove most threatening. Evenings in the summer can stay above 80 degrees in Southern California; couple that with acrobatic performances, bushy wigs, and blaring stage lights, and actors are sure to sweat through even the thinnest of fabrics. …

“But heat invites more than just exhaustion and sweat; it’s also a magnet for bugs, something that Chen had to account for when creating stage blood for her costumes.

” ‘Blood is integral to Titus,’ Chen says. ‘My recipe was successful in past indoor productions. With a corn syrup base, it’s easy to wash out, edible, and realistic. But when doing outdoor performances, the sugar-based corn syrup attracts bugs. Fortunately, the theatre company has years of outdoor performance experience and provided a great recipe that’s washable, edible, and doesn’t allure insects.’ …

“Rain is no stranger to American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisc., though the threat of precipitation doesn’t change the creative process. As costume designer Robert Morgan succinctly puts it: ‘Design first, problem-solve later.’ He’s the costume designer for APT’s ‘As You Like It’ (running through Oct. 7). …

“ ‘Shoes are covered with non-slip dance rubber,’ he says. ‘But evening dew can make our outdoor stage slippery, so at APT we add sand to paint’ to give the stage’s surface extra traction.

“As in L.A., Morgan must also consider sweltering temperatures. This includes having freezer packs on hand for actors to wear beneath their costumes and crafting a ‘heat plan.’ which is ‘meant to accommodate the actors’ well-being on exceptionally hot, muggy nights and matinees under an unforgiving midsummer sun,’ Morgan said. …

“Oppressive heat and humidity are staples of New York summers as well. After a successful first run in 2016, Andrea Hood returned to design costumes for the Public Theater’s current Shakespeare in the Park production, ‘Twelfth Night,’ a Public Works musical adaptation with songs by Shaina Taub. …

“Hood plans not only the intricacies of [the] fabrics but also how costume pieces may adjust with unexpected precipitation. ‘Fuchsia feathers often come loose on [the character] Maria’s peignoir in “Twelfth Night,” ‘ she notes. ‘It isn’t the most practical costume for an outdoor space, so if it’s raining she would likely skip that change altogether. It’s the one piece that would probably not go onstage in the rain.’

“But a light drizzle doesn’t always signal a costume adjustment, or even a cancelled performance. In fact, its effect—combined with stellar acting, of course—can be as spellbinding as any theatrical flourish, more dazzling than any stage magic.

“ ‘Last year it was pouring for the first night of tech for “As You Like It,” ‘ Hood recalled. ‘The actors didn’t get into costume at all.’ Instead they wore street clothes, covered with plastic ponchos. ‘It was wonderful,’ she enthuses. ‘By midnight there were only five actors left running a number over and over again, still managing to smile. I loved being in the audience watching them—the rain didn’t even matter.’ ”

More at American Theatre, here.

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“My hair was over in the grass/ My naked ears heard the day pass.”

These bent-over bushes, usually so tall, look resentful to me: “How can you keep letting this happen?”

“Well,” I respond, “I can’t control the weather.”

And then it occurs to me that I am actually relieved there are still things humans can’t control.

One thing we can control, usually anyway, is our decision making. I often think about how hard it is to make a decision with incomplete information and, when you look back at what you ended up doing, how obvious the choice seems.

Usually I spend two nights in Providence at Suzanne and Erik’s so I can volunteer in a couple Rhode Island ESL classes. But early Monday I had to decide where to spend my blizzard. One report quoted a manageable 2-4 inches. Others said 6-12. I even heard 18 inches was a possibility in places.

Without complete information about the amount of snowfall projected, the time that the blizzard would hit, and the likelihood of classes being canceled, I struggled to decide whether to stay in Providence or go back to Massachusetts.

Another wrinkle: I had promised to take an Eritrean refugee to a parking garage to see if there were any job openings, and I knew that if I left Providence late, I could hit heavy Boston traffic and might have to drive in the dark, which I have been avoiding lately.

In the end, I took The Eritrean student to the garage. The man in charge wasn’t exactly friendly to her, but she was thrilled to have practiced asking for work and to have received a URL for making an online application. She told me she hadn’t had any ideas about how to get started.

A very independent woman, the student insisted on taking the bus home, and I headed north.

As it happened, I was going to be on my own whether in Providence or at home, and today being at home seems so obvious I wonder why I was anxious about making the right choice. At home, my car is sheltered, there’s a greater possibility of someone checking on me, and a reduced likelihood of power failures. (The town has a municipal light plant, and outages are both rare and quickly fixed if they do occur.)

What was your last many-moving-parts decision? Doesn’t it seem obvious to you now?

Bushes to homeowner: “Seriously?”
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Portland, Maine, has a reputation for being welcoming to immigrants and refugees. As a result, newcomers have been giving back, taking seriously their training in how to start a business, for example, hiring people, and boosting the city’s economy.

In this story by Jess Bidgood at the NY Times, we learn about Portland’s “class intended to help immigrants from warm countries cope with the cold.”

Bidgood writes about newcomers “squeezed into a plain conference room at the city’s center for refugee services … to be schooled in a central piece of Portland’s cultural curriculum for its growing population of new arrivals, many of whom are asylum-seekers from Central Africa: the art of handling a Maine winter.

“The instructor, Simeon Alloding, a human services counselor here, sat at the front of the room, ticking off winter’s many perils as clip art images of a penguin and an elephant decked out for cold weather hovered in a PowerPoint presentation behind him. ‘Everyone here has fallen, right?’ Mr. Alloding asked as he began a discussion on how to navigate the city’s icy sidewalks. ‘You don’t walk too fast, you don’t take long steps.’ …

“On this slushy morning, there were more attendees than could possibly find seating, and late arrivals clustered around the entrances to the room, many still wrapped in winter coats and hats despite the stifling heat of the room.”

The refugees help each other with translation, but some questions are hard to answer, like how to know what tomorrow’s weather might be.

“Miguel Chimukeno, from Angola, rose to ask a question in Portuguese, which another student translated to French, which the French interpreter, Eric Ndayizi, posed to Mr. Alloding.

“ ‘He’s low income — zero income — and you said they should watch TV and know some information. How does he get TV?’ Mr. Ndayizi asked.

“ ‘There’s nobody that’s going to issue out TV’s,’ Mr. Alloding said. ‘My only suggestion is that you talk to your neighbors.’ ”

More.

Photo: Craig Dilger for The New York Times

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