Musings on Midsummer

As we move into our 2nd performing venue of this season, many things are swimming through my mind:

Will it rain tomorrow?  (Yes, is the answer.  The forecast indicates 100% chance of rain).  I will hold out hope.  And alter things as necessary when tomorrow comes and decisions need to be made.

Will we get the audiences we are hoping for at our indoor performances at the Royall Tyler Theatre this weekend?  (?, This remains a question).

Will I manage to pull off looking good for my upcoming curtain speeches?  I don’t mean with what I am saying, but rather, you know, will I look GOOD?  As in hair, make-up, outfit.  Keep in mind that in previous seasons I have barely managed to get out of my work clothes before needing to throw a dress onto my sweaty body and run onstage to welcome our audience. 

In 2005, our inaugural season, I was backstage navigating a dressing room made of a tent from the 1950’s that my father had given us to use (which he had bought used at some point in my childhood).  It smelled like the 1950’s, as in “I have been around since the 1950’s, improperly stored in someone’s garage.”  In 2006, we had so much mud backstage that we had to place planking all through the woods for the actors to walk on (no easy feat).  In 2008, there was an ant infestation in the sand we had imported for the set.  In 2010, the bleachers in our audience were infested with bees.  BEES!  An issue that did not get eradicated until a mere two hours before the opening night audience arrived.  In 2012, when we did The Tempest, we had a tempest of rain, dressing room tents that almost blew away (with actors in them) and had to cancel two shows. In 2013 we navigated the land of performing in a city park, and had to battle the musical styling of the Black Crowes who were performing across the lake and whose music could be heard very clearly on our performance site. 

But through it all, we did Shakespeare, a gift to be able to do.  And had fun.  And learned more and more with each passing year.  And made friends, and created a theatre family. So, today as I sat in the audience area of our 2nd venue, the beautiful Shelburne Museum, the following things were not lost on me:  The space was quiet.  There is lush grass in our playing area for the actors to roll around in. A gorgeous landmark building surrounding the performance site that embraced and enhanced and lifted up our creative vision.   A (substantial) dressing room tent that had been provided and set up for us by the museum.   Lovely and helpful museum staff was around to assist us. We have come a long way.  These things seem simple but to John and I they are monumental.  And a tribute to keeping the faith.  Because, wow, there have been SO MANY times over this past 9 years where we almost threw in the towel.  Thinking, WHAT ARE WE DOING?   The sacrifices (personally, financially, professionally, not to mention time with our son) were overwhelming to us. But, and here is the biggest thing…. the consistent motivator through all the years has been THE ARTISTS WE WORK WITH, the amazing artists who dedicate themselves to the company for 5/6 weeks every summer.  Talented, inspiring, hard working, generous, giving (blood sweat and tears kind of giving- see above description of former seasons).  This truly is what keeps John and I afloat.  This year is no exception.  Our first summer we were a group of 12- designers, cast and crew.  This year we are a team of 32.  And it is quite a group.  Smiles and open hearts.  Dedication that goes above and beyond. We are lucky to do what we do.  It’s hard.  But I hope if we just keep saying yes, that it’s full potential will be realized.  When our five year old, who knows that mommy and daddy are “at Shakespeare”, asks us “Did you build Shakespeare? Did you build it with bricks and wood?”  We attempt to explain it in some historical frame.  And then we just say

“ Yes, we built it.  Mommy and Daddy built something.”

 

 Posted by Jena Necrason – Artistic Director

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Family

To use a phrase from a buddy of mine when I was in college, I want to drop some “real-talk”. I tried to write something extremely elegant here. I had written half of a blog post that used a lot of fancy words and beautiful language. It was separated into various themes and I used the word “grow” a lot. My second most used word was “grows”. Not that I wanted to try and write in an artistic way and/or write like a true Vermonter…but I did. Ya got me. It’s beautiful up here in Vermont so I wanted my words in the post to match the exquisite and breath-taking views and experiences that Vermont offers.

But that’s not who I am. I’m a young man from Yonkers, New York. I know very little about the outdoors except my vast knowledge of Atlantic City, New Jersey, and I’m pretty sure cheese and boxed wine are the real deal up here. The reason that I am up here is because I am a member of a family. The Vermont Shakespeare Company. Run by husband and wife ultimate tag-team combo, Jena Necrason and John Nagle, the family atmosphere is always embraced. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my second full production with VSC and one of many times working with the company be it at readings in NYC or coming up for wine-tasting paired with Shakespearian-scenes fundraising events. I’ll be honest. I don’t come up here for the cheese. Beautiful as Vermont is, I don’t come up here for the view. I definitely don’t come up here for the money. I come up because VSC is my second family. My home away from home. I’m comfortable here. Always learning. Always having an amazing time. I’m protective of this theatre company as well. Not just because it was the company that gave me my first job right out of college, but because I just respect it so damn much. John and Jena are two of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met, and I’m not just saying that for a role in next summer’s Shakespeare. Why are they inspiring? They truly care for their actors for starters. For the audience and community, they have founded a company that creates innovative ways of presenting Shakespeare with a STRONG emphasis on enacting positive change in the world. As an actor in this company, they use actors as human beings, always asking us to share ideas and experiences to further the artistic vision of the show and theatre company. Each summer consists of young and old company members but also brand new faces, old and young. It’s an ever-GROWING family. There’s that word. I tried. But let’s definitely use it here.

While playing Puck, I have been blessed to be the Education Coordinator this year for VSC. This year’s education component is the largest it’s ever been. Not only do we have a returning team of interns ranging from various ages of 14 and over, but through a brand new partnership with the University of Vermont, UVM students are a welcome addition to the internship program as well as some who are in fact performing in this year’s show. I’ve had the opportunity to teach some classes offered in the Professional Internship Program: a program consisting of classes such as Voice and Speech, Movement For Actors, Stage Combat, Business of Acting, Scene Study and Intro to Monologue Work, and from my experiences so far, I can honestly say that VSC is reaching the youth of the Vermont community in an extraordinary way. Aside from getting an accelerated and intense connection with one of Shakespeare’s great works, working side by side with theatre professionals, and learning of future career opportunities through workshops and immersion, VSC offers the youth of the Vermont community to be a part of their ever-growing family. Without their help, the show doesn’t get put up. Literally. And lastly, VSC embraces the family atmosphere to its supporters and audience members. It’s a place that wants its audiences full because it’s a theatre company reaching out with arms wide open. It’s the VERMONT Shakespeare Company. Vermont is its home. Everyone can be a family member. That includes the young attractive Price Chopper employee who winked at me yesterday…Chris, the manager of the Woolen Health Club gym, who strikes up a conversation with me every time I walk in even though he barely knows me…and even the various singers from The Mule Bar across the street who keep me up all night.

Lastly again, I’ve seen realizations and discoveries in class work in members of our ‘Intern Team” and wow, is it beautiful to watch. Discoveries about acting, life, art, love…and for me…Nick of Yonkers…that’s the beauty that lies up here. The discovery that I fully believe each one of us has here. That we are all a part of something. A family. A family that I am so proud to be a part of, working with people I am so lucky to know. I just dropped the mic. That’s how blogs work, right?

Posted by Nick Piacente, Puck/Education Coordinator and Company Member

Summer Shakespeare

The great outdoors. City parks. Old trees. Damp leaves. Bugs. Cold weather. 100 degrees. Unstable lawn chairs that squeak with every slight adjustment, or a thin, thin towel on the rock hard ground. No towel and a wet butt. Itchy – somehow constantly itchy. I perform some variation of this ritual every summer. But I never remember the bug bites the morning after, my mind is still stuck with Beatrice and Benedick, or gnarly Caliban rolling around on the ground. And each summer I return to see my favorites over and over again, to hear the poetry of Shakespeare’s words mingling with the fresh, cool, breeze, and to see the sun set during an engrossing fifth Act until the last line is delivered in darkness. What is it about Summer Shakespeare that never grows old?

Whatever it is, it pulled me away from the hustle and bustle of New York City this summer and threw me onto a questionable Mega Bus (only $33 round trip!) until I landed smack dab in the middle of Burlington in front of the Royall Tyler Theatre at UVM. I had come following my favorite teacher from the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, where she and her husband are putting up the seventh season of their Vermont Shakespeare Company. The production: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Arriving at the first day of rehearsals was like entering into a family reunion. The cast is filled with all ages. Vince Rossano, who plays Snug and Egeus, was part of the Shakespeare festival that UVM held more than 20 years ago. Our actresses playing Hermia and a few of the fairies are current students at UVM in the midst of a degree in theatre. The myriad of experiences allows the company to compile together their unique artistic backgrounds and training into a language that makes sense to all and focuses on the challenge of telling this play. As the ASM my work is done in the audience, so every day I get to watch the imagination, the energy, and the creativity bouncing off the walls. It is a tribute to this unique family of actors.

Far from NYC, where a semester away from graduation, I was overcome with anxiety in anticipation for the next, wide open stage of my life. Riddled with self-doubt and fear of the unexpected, I was left wheeling, and questions of who I am and what I can do became excessive. The constant stimuli of the city – a place where comparison and competition is inevitable, and the nagging mantra of “work harder, be better, work harder” played in my head on repeat – only egged the problem on. I had to get out. Begging my teacher Jena to let me work with her and follow her to Vermont was my solution. And here I am.

When I have a spare hour I often walk down to the lake side, invigorated by the excitement of rehearsal. I breathe in the water; its vastness, the rhythmic behavior of the waves. Their largeness fills me with largeness, their beauty beckons me to see beauty, and their calming tones remind me that the world knows better. Surrounded by art, inspiration, and the stunning natural background of this incredible city, I am set free.

Summer Shakespeare is addictive because it contains the perfect pairing – nature and Shakespeare, Shakespeare and nature. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is filled with age old humor, age old tales, themes that never grow old: jealousy, love, power, butt jokes, sex jokes. Where better to place this play than in the setting from where it all derived? The trees, the grass, the delicious poetry, the tingling breeze – Summer Shakespeare is a reminder of our humanity.

 

Posted by Ella Smith, ASM/Intern