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