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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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