Shakespeare’s words fuel ‘Incarnate’ at Tulane _lowres

Photo by John Barrios -- Jake Wynne-Wilson and Ruby Lou Smith in 'Incarnate.'

After Tulane’s Shakespeare Festival and Compleat Stage brought the sold-out “Luna Series” to the festival last year, the two are teaming up again to add an original performance to this year’s celebration of the Bard.

Directed by Chaney Tullos, the festival’s director of operations and an adjunct professor at Tulane, the new show, “Incarnate,” focuses on love and passion. It combines Shakespeare’s words with live music, soundscapes, movement and song.

The play, being staged through July 22 at Tulane’s Lab Theater, is an homage to Shakespeare. Such original work is typical of the festival, officially The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane.

“The only words spoken in the play are sung — we have some songs as well — and we pulled text from the sonnets of Shakespeare, a little from the plays and a few of his epic poems,” said Tullos, who also directed “The Luna Series.”

“I know Shakespeare pretty well, and so I started reading all the sonnets, the epic poems … and then in a 20- or 30-page document, I started cutting and pasting text that I thought might work.”

From there, Tullos narrowed the text down into a streaming narrative, with a beginning, middle and end.

The show’s focus is on love and passion because they are universal feelings that allow the audience access to the performance and the characters.

Participants in “Incarnate” represent various age groups who were able to offer their own perspectives on the show’s themes.

Some of the actors, Tullos said, have been married for 20 or 30 years, while others, in their late 20s or early 30s, have a different perspective on love and relationships.

“The story we tell is about a woman who has lost the love of her life,” Tullos said. “Basically, one night it all comes back to her, and her memories come to life, and so this story unfolds and we tell it through movement and Shakespeare’s words.”

Tullos utilized Compleat Stage and his other partners to enlist high-caliber actors, musicians and a sound engineer. He enlisted actress Cristine McMurdo-Wallis to play the show’s main role, The Woman, and Ruby Lou Smith and Jake Wynne-Wilson play the young couple.

Award-winning sound designer and musician Kevin O’Donnell has done sound design for a number of prestigious theater companies, though he maybe better known as the drummer for popular musician Andrew Bird.

“We just tried to fuse these things together,” Tullos said. “We’ve been working on this for a couple months now, really refining the story and trying to make sure everything is a cohesive unit and that it is a really tight show. I think we’ve been pretty successful.”

Tullos and the show’s producers also made sure to set “Incarnate” in a small theater to create a more intimate experience.

Though he does remind potential audience members of the disclaimer for children younger than 13, it’s not because of anything gratuitous onstage.

“There is a stylized moment where they make love, but that’s really powerful to me. … You almost blush a little bit because the intimacy is there. It’s there not only through the movement, but the music is supporting it — it’s a really unique experience.”