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In Conversation with actor Jeff Yung on MEASURE FOR MEASURE with Shakespeare BASH’d

Interview by Bailey Green

Jeff Yung is an actor, poet, tricker and martial artist. We met in the Fall of 2015 when we performed in the Shakespeare BASH’d production of King John. This week, BASH’d returns to the Junction City Music Hall with Measure for Measure, directed by Associate Artistic Director Catherine Rainville. With Jeff taking on the role of Claudio, it was the perfect opportunity to speak with my partner about his experience working on Measure for Measure, his history with BASH’d, and why he loves performing Shakespeare for contemporary audiences.

Bailey Green: So, how are rehearsals going? How are you feeling about Opening?

Jeff Yung: Rehearsals have been going well! We’re doing runs of the show so it’s really nice to have the whole cast in the room. I feel like we’ve just gotten to the place where the whole room feels that sense of ‘there’s the show’ with all of the pieces coming together. Now it’s just about repetition, and as Catherine said, connecting the dots we’ve laid out for ourselves. I’m feeling good about opening, I think we’re in a great place and we’re ready to move into the venue and feel that shift of bringing the whole show to the next level.

BG: What did you know about Measure for Measure beforehand?

JY: Funnily enough, Measure for Measure was one of the main stage shows my graduating class did at Ryerson University. Many BASH’d alum, including Co-Artistic Director James Wallis, were in that production, so I knew the plot pretty well and how topical it would be. What’s been surprising is how I view many of the characters and circumstances so differently in light of how the world has changed since we did that school production.

BG: So for those who may not know the plot as well (myself included), whats the story and how does your character fit in?

JY: Catherine has this great way of describing Measure for Measure as a weird Shakespearean version of Undercover Boss, which is a pretty apt description. A Duke in Vienna goes away and temporarily suspends his power to Angelo, a man known to be noble, honest and good. Though it is “strewn in the common ear” that the Duke is far away he is, in fact, disguised as a Friar and moves about his city engaging with the citizens to see if giving power to a man with such a great reputation will corrupt him and bring plight upon the city. My character Claudio’s actions are the ones that call the conflict into the play. In world of Measure for Measure, pre-marital sex is illegal and punishable by death, despite the fact that nearly everyone does it. Under the Duke’s rule, no one has been charged nor punished for such an act, and in fact, brothels are common both in the city and the suburbs. Claudio has had sex with a woman named Juliet who is basically his wife, only they haven’t yet done an official marriage ceremony, so technically, they’ve committed a crime. With the Duke gone, Angelo brings back enforcement of these old laws and arrests Claudio and sentences him to death. It is at this point that Claudio asks his sister Isabella, a novice nun about to enter into the sisterhood, to make a case for Claudio’s life.

BG: What has it been like working with Catherine as a director, as most (if not all) of the BASH’d shows you’ve been in were directed by James Wallis?

JY: Yes, every BASH’d show I’ve done has been directed by James prior to this one! It has been wonderful to work with Catherine. She has a very strong vision and knows how to bring it into the room, while still being very open and flexible to trying different things. This play is complex and messy in many places and Catherine has done an outstanding job leaning into the messiness and finding ways to make it work well with the story we are trying to tell. I also feel like there are so many different energies and personalities in a cast as big as ours, each individual actor has their own unique process and needs and Catherine has been really open and patient with all of us.

Bailey Green (left), Jeff Yung (centre) in KING JOHN. Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell

BG: The last time you performed in this space was when we were in King John. How has your life changed since that show?

JY: Haha good question…My life has changed a lot since King John. I’ve moved into a new neighbourhood, become the co-caregiver of a trouble-making, loveable cat named Puck, done some pretty cool acting gigs and tried to take steps towards growing into the best (or at least better) version of myself. Through it all, the greatest privilege, honour and joy has been to have you in my life as a partner (and yes I can hear the collective groan of your readers), but truly through all of the triumphs and defeats that have come my way since that show, I am so beyond grateful that I had you to share it with. Is this too much?

BG: Im gonna keep it. So, why do you love Shakespeare?

JY: As an actor I find the challenge of making Shakespeare’s text comprehensible to a contemporary audience is one of the things I love. Every time I approach a Shakespeare show it is like having to assemble a complex piece of IKEA furniture before you can actually play around with it.

BG: Youve known BASH’d Co-Artistic Directors James [Wallis], Julia Nish-Lapidus and Associate Artistic Director Catherine [Rainville] for years now. How has working with BASH’d changed over time? What do you enjoy the most about working with them?

JY: I think one of the greatest things about BASH’d is how the heart of every show has been the same. They’ve moved to different bars and enlist the talents of many other talented individuals in the company, but at the core it’s a group of committed artists, telling their clearest and most connected version of Shakespeare’s story, in a bar. There’s something about the simplicity of that that’s immensely difficult. You really have to use the tools given to you, which is your text and your body. And then you’re in a bar, so you have to contend with the space and its limits. But I think the combination of the space and tools is what makes BASH’d shows so deep in the work, and ultimately what makes the shows really stand out and come together so well. I honestly love watching the work of the other actors. Every actor brings something different to the characters they play, and it’s incredible to see someone’s journey to craft those characters. I am very grateful to have been in a BASH’d room so many times to witness the coming together of some really great shows.

BG: Three Shakespeare roles you’d like to tackle?

JY: I’d love to play Iago, Henry V, and also maybe Coriolanus? Those are the ones for now at least, I’m sure that will change with age and experience.

Measure for Measure

Who:
Directed by Catherine Rainville
Featuring: Geoffrey Armour, Olivia Croft, Sochi Fried, Melanie Leon, Tim MacLean, Michael Man, Megan Miles, Drew O’Hara, Cara Pantalone, Lesley Robertson, David Ross, Jeff Yung
Associate Director: Drew O’Hara
Stage Manager: Darcy Haywood Stoop
Producers: Julia Nish-Lapidus, James Wallis
Marketing Design: Kyle Purcell

What:
“To whom should I complain? Did I tell this/Who would believe me?”
Shakespeare’s story of sexual politics, consent, power, and corruption is given a barroom staging at Junction City Music Hall.

Where:
Junction City Music Hall
2907 Dundas St. West, Toronto

When:
ONE WEEK ONLY
May 1-6, 2018
Tuesday, May 1 – 7:30pm
Wednesday, May 2 – 7:30pm
Thursday, May 3 – 7:30pm
Friday, May 4 – 7:30pm
Saturday, May 5 – 2:00pm
Saturday, May 5 – 7:30pm
Sunday, May 6 – 2:00pm

Tickets:
www.shakespearebashd.com
$20 online
$25 at the door (pending availability)

 

Artist Profile: Lesley Robertson takes on the role of King John in the upcoming production by Shakespeare BASH’d

Interview by Hallie Seline

Hallie Seline: King John has been scarcely performed up until last year when Stratford staged it. Why do you think King John is due for a ‘come-back’ and what about it stood out the most after working on it now in comparison to some of Shakespeare’s more often produced work in Canada?

Lesley Robertson: I think King John is definitely due for a come-back because I think we all need a break from the over-produced comedies for a bit, while still getting to enjoy Shakespeare’s spectacular poetry, characters, and timeless themes of humanity. I especially think it’s due for a come-back in the bare-bones, accessible way Shakespeare BASH’d is approaching the play.  The text is heavy with political maneuvering, battles over ‘right’, and religious language – it’s very dense and rooted in its history. But with the clear direction of James Wallis, I think we will make this difficult, murky-seeming play come alive for an audience through our emphasis on the story and language (without relying on expensive sets and costumes) and our youthful energy and passion to tell a story about oppression. I personally celebrate the play’s complexity and messy imperfections – I think it suits the story, which is full of political and moral errors and people switching back and forth between sides. I also think it’s a great time to tell a political story with Canada just having had a very interesting election and also a travelling Magna Carta exhibit!

HS: What have you discovered in exploring the character of King John? 

LR: I’ve thought a lot about manipulation and what is right and wrong. I’ve rarely played characters that, on the outside, might be perceived as ‘villainous’ or even not likeable. But from the inside, those people are simply acting in a manner they think best. They are doing what they think is right and they are simply going after what they want and need. So, I guess that’s to say, I’ve found it very interesting to empathize with someone that has been hated so widely and for centuries! (That’s not to say I think what John does is ‘good’ and ‘right’!) I think Shakespeare has created a deliciously complex play and I hope to imbue John with the complexity of any human being; we are all vulnerable. I hope to complicate the audience’s inherited perception of “Bad King John.”

HS: What are you most looking forward to in doing this piece in The Junction City Music Hall?

LR: The proximity between the audience and our playing space, I like being able to see audience members’ faces, and, of course, the beer.

HS: Describe this play in 10 words or less.

LR: Oh, I’m terrible at this… Crap, are you counting?… “Oppression.”

Lesley Robertson as King John. Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell

Lesley Robertson as King John.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

HS: Favourite Drink at The Junction City Music Hall:

LR: I remember noting several craft tall boys that I love, but I can only remember Conductor’s Ale at the moment. Ask me again at the end of the run!

HS: Favourite rehearsal moment:

LR: When everyone laughed at me during an early movement rehearsal in which I created a giant angry horse with my body that simply yells “NEIGH!!!”

HR: Favourite place in Toronto:

LR: Other than my home, the 13th floor of Robarts Library.

HS: Where do you find inspiration?

LR: Music, literature, history, documentaries…

HS: Best advice you’ve ever gotten:

LR: Hm… My streetcar driver today said “Life is too short to be grumpy” and that was pretty great.

HS: What do you think is on your King John’s pre-show playlist?

LR: Something that really pumps me up I guess… like gangster rap… Yeah, probably some gangster rap.

King John Graphic

Directed by James Wallis

Featuring: Sochi Fried, James Graham, Bailey Green, Catherine Rainville, Lesley Robertson, Caitlyn Robson, David Ross, Matt Shaw, Tim Welham, Kate Werneburg, Jeff Yung

When: November 16 – 21, 2015

Where: Junction City Music Hall, 2907 Dundas Street West, Toronto.

Tickets: $19 online: shakespearebashd.com $20 at the door.

Connect with us!

Shakespeare Bash’d: @ShakesBASHd

In the Greenroom: @intheGreenRoom_