By STEVE KELLEY The first time Romeo leans in to kiss Juliet the ooohs, aaahs and whoops tumble from the Franklin High School audience onto the stage. Teachers, wanting their students to be respectful, hiss soft “shhshes,” but the truth is, the actors encourage these responses. They feed off that buzz and, they believe the audience’s involvement makes the performance feel even more authentic. They like it when students at the Seattle Shakespeare Company’s touring productions of Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew yell “Don’t do it,” when Romeo begins to drink the poison and when audiences cheer when he kills Tybalt and groan when Mercutio dies. When Lady Capulet spits at Juliet, the audience gasps and murmurs. At one performance an audience member yelled out, “No!” when Mercutio was stabbed. “This is how it was for Shakespeare,” said Arjun Pande, who plays Mercutio. “Actors toured around the countryside and performed for the masses. The audiences were part of the productions. They yelled things like, ‘Kill him!’ to the actors. “We look at our audiences like they are our 12th man. I understand when teachers are shhshing the students, but we like the energy. We play off that, even. And if they start talking, we feel like it’s our job to win them back.” Pande, Tom Dewey, Maya Burton, Lexi Chapman, Rafael Molina and Sophie Franco are the six actors in this year’s touring company. Erin Murray directs and education associate Casey Brown coordinates the tour. This cast not only does the heavy acting, it also does the heavy lifting. The company’s van is packed with sets that need to be arranged every day in a difference theater. The actors unload and set up their props. They do sound checks and practice their fight scenes to get a feel for how they should navigate the stage. They apply their own makeup, get into costumes and into character. And, at the end of the 90-minutes performances, they conduct a question-and-answer session (talkback) before reloading the van and leaving for the tour’s next stop. These are serious, accomplished actors, who are willing to work at their crafts no matter what the staging obstacles. They rehearsed for two months before taking these shows on the road. Watching them in the van, backstage and on stage, their affection for each other is obvious and they are grateful for this opportunity. This is love’s labor found. “Working with Seattle Shakes means so many things to me,” Franco said. “It means exercising every muscle in my body in pursuit of the stories.” At certain stops they perform a bilingual production of The Taming of the Shrew, which means something especially important to Franco. “This tour sits close to my heart,” she said, “because I get to perform Shakespeare in Spanish and I get to perform it for Latino children all across Washington. I get to show them that Latino actors exist and we’re present and we’re forces to be reckoned with.” For the company, every day is another opening, another show. And no two days ever are the same. Students from Royal City High School left their school at 6 a.m., traveling more 150 miles to see Romeo and Juliet. At the end of the show, the students stood and recited the prologue to the play to the actors, who were sitting on stage. This spring, the touring company is crisscrossing the state for some 4700 miles, by the end of the tour they will have performed in front of about 17,000 students and faculty. For many in these audiences this will be their introduction to Shakespeare and, for some, it will be the first chapter in an enduring love affair with his works. “Last year’s tour was the most rewarding opportunity of my career. There are few things more rewarding than watching a first-time audience member get carried away by the story,” said Dewey, who plays Tybalt, Peter and Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet. “The tour has afforded me that experience time and time again.” At one talkback session, Pande asked the young audience if it would like to see more Shakespearean plays. “Oh hell yeah!” a student shouted out. And that enthusiasm from a new-found fan is exactly why they tour.
News About The Taming of the Shrew
Seattle Shakespeare Company’s adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet will reach thousands of children in schools and theatres across Washington State.The Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet will go on a twelve week tour of Washington schools and theatres. Local public performances of The Taming of the Shrew will be March 17-19 at the Center Theatre. Tour locations include:
- College Place
- Lake Stevens
- Mount Vernon
- Soap Lake
- Walla Walla
The Taming of the ShrewArjun Pande (Petruchio), Lexi Chipman( Bianca/Ensemble), Maya Burton (Tranio/Ensemble), Rafael Molina (Baptista/Ensemble), Sophie Franco (Katherine), Tom Dewey (Hortensio/Lucentio).
Romeo and JulietArjun Pande (Nurse/Mercutio/Prince), Lexi Chipman (Juliet/Sampson), Maya Burton (Benvolio/Paris), Rafael Molina (Romeo/Gregory), Sophie Franco (Lady Capulet/Abram/Apothecary), Tom Dewey (Friar/Tybalt/Peter). Both productions will be directed by Erin Murray. The Taming of the Shrew will be a bilingual English/Spanish adaptation with translation done by Ana Maria Campoy.
At Seattle Shakespeare Company, we start our staff meetings by sharing Bright Spots that have happened to us in the week. These are triumphant moments, both big and small, that acknowledge the positive aspects of our jobs. It’s fun to share them with staff members who may not have been around to experience them directly. This year, we asked our board, staff, and artists to give us their Bright Spots of the past year, and what they had to share is listed below. Did you have a Bright Spot at Seattle Shakespeare Company in 2013? Let us know in the comments section.
A standout for me was the entire production of A Doll’s House. Great director, wonderful cast and very appreciative audiences. Rod Pilloud, Stage Manager
1) Here’s a serious answer: Seeing the energy, skill, dedication, and passion that the Wooden O actors and stage managers brought with them each night to every park — new or familiar — was nothing short of inspiring. 2) And here’s a laugh: Also, if you ever wondered whether or not it’s a good idea to melt chocolate over an open flame that’s propped up on some stones on the grass (or if a tea towel will sufficiently put out the inevitable grass-fire without bursting into flames itself) … it’s not (and it won’t). The Great Flaming Fondue Fiasco of 2013. Never Forget. To all my friends at Seattle Shakes — thanks for a beautiful summer and some lovely lasting friendships <3 Kaeline Kine, Wooden O Site Manager
The most memorable moment with Seattle Shakespeare this year was the final performance of The Tempest , specifically the curtain call. Being surrounded by these amazingly talented people who had inspired and taught me so much, with a lazy summer sun setting in the background casting a pink hue on everyone. I looked around and promised myself to never forget that moment: Holding Pilar’s hand, and George crying harder than anyone else and every face in the audience smiling. I couldn’t have asked for a better or more beautiful moment to recognize that my life had profoundly changed. Kellyn Traeckenschuh, actor
The atmosphere of the rehearsal room over at SCT for A Doll’s House was one of the most supportive and generous that I have ever experience. From Russ down to little Mia, the cast and crew worked so lovingly and honestly on this powerful play. My contribution was small but I felt so honored to be included in the production. Laura Ferri, actor
The War of Kindness between Tempest and Henry 5! Michael Patten, actor
Romeo and Juliet at the Olympic Sculpture Park – how the cast improvised to incorporate the roof top of the temporary house into the balcony scene – also watching casual passers-by stop, astonished, to watch the superb performance. They tore themselves away so very reluctantly. Sarah Alsdorf, Board member
Watching audience members cry because they were laughing so hard at the antics of the cast of Taming of the Shrew, then watching Bash supporters raise their bid cards after Kelly Kitchens (our “Kate”) lifted them with her own moving story. I’m proud of SSC’s wonderful works and our fabulous fans!! Sue Petitpas, Board member
Loved the story that Kelly Kitchens shared onstage at this year’s “Bash.” She crystalized the art and idealism that drives Seattle Shakespeare to do what we do. Brilliant. Jeannie Blank, Board member
While performing at Seatac Park this summer in The Tempest, a young man approached me during setup and asked me what we were doing. I told him we would be performing Shakespeare tonight for free. He then asked “What’s Shakespeare?” Inwardly I died a little, but I told him he should hang around and find out. He did. Sitting front row center with a huge smile. He came up after, shook my hand, and said than you. Best moment in my career. Brian Simmons, actor
I suspect that most folks focus on the final product–the art. My highlight of the past year was watching the “making of” disc. George blossoming into his new role; Michelle and Casey coming into their own; John and George on stage opening night doing Martin & Lewis. Phil Miller, Board member
Amy Thone (Prospero) standing on a big mossy rock in the island forest wilderness (the stage stairs/promontory), reaching her long thin arms toward the sky…my idea of an actor, reaching… Susan Wilder, Board member
Making my directing debut with Seattle Shakespeare Company last winter was a time of pure joy and deep fulfillment. Everyone in the Love’s Labours Lost family, both on stage and off, were so supportive, creative and loving that it made the process from first day of rehearsal through closing night unforgettable. On a personal note, Love’s Labours Lost was the first show I directed after conquering cancer last December and I cannot think of a more glorious way to celebrate life and art – my deepest gratitude and love to all of you! Jon Kretzu, Director of Love’s Labour’s Lost
When I cast Brandon Ryan as Biondello in our remount of The Taming of the Shrew… well, I had no idea how far we could go… Because this actor is: CRAZY AND FREAKIN TALENTED!!!! Brandon reminded me: There are very few limitations in the theater… We didn’t have to follow any of the rules! What a joyful experience for a director to work with an actor who is so open to an organic, undetermined process! Seriously – this is truly rare with any sort of actor. Shrew will always hold a special place in my creative heart! Aimée Bruneau, Director of The Taming of the Shrew
The absolutely stunning and poignant production of Taming of the Shrew – the intensity of the emotions and wonderful staging. Shawn Aebi, Board member
Closing night of Tempest and Wooden O’s 20th anniversary season was one of the most moving events I’ve been a part of as an actor. Jim Lapan, actor
It was so fulfilling to do the Fight Direction on Henry V for Wooden O. I had to leave for my honeymoon just before tech. When we returned 3 weeks later, it was an absolute delight to see the show after a few weeks of performances. It seemed that the players had really found their “sea legs” and I we truly loved the experience. Peter Dylan O’Connor, actor/fight choreographer
The remount of Wooden O’s production of The Taming of the Shrew was last season’s highlight for me. The chance to be reunited with such a marvelous troupe of players was glorious. It was a real joy to rejoin Kelly Kitchens and unleash our inner rednecks while spouting the words of Shakespeare! David Quicksall, actor
All the bizarre rituals we created backstage during the run of Love’s Labour’s Lost. They got stranger and stranger as the run progressed. Brandon Simmons
I truly enjoyed the hilariously funny Much Ado About Nothing, with its terrific set and cast. Seeing George Mount on stage as Don Pedro was a highlight! Lynne Graybeal, Board member
Being present in the room at Bill’s Bash as Kelly Kitchens voiced the dreams of a little girl, brought to life by the visual power of live Shakespeare, and realizing Seattle Shakespeare Company has the power and the mission to continue that dream. Roberta Greenwood, Board member
A highlight for me was our Bill’s Bash event this past spring. I was incredibly moved by the tremendous outpouring of support from our patrons and donors. It was a fun-filled night and the most successful fundraiser in SSC’s history, raising more than $210,000 to support our work in the community. Way to go, everyone! Lauren Domino, Development Director
“Unleashed in this world” is how actress Kelly Kitchens describes Kate, the character she’s revisiting in our production of The Taming of the Shrew. Kitchens reminds us that this play isn’t just a battle between two strong wills, it’s a romantic comedy with a wedding. “Being married doesn’t mean you lose your spirit,” says Kitchens, “but you are not entirely independent.” Turn up the volume and listen to why she enjoys playing Kate.
Returning to a role can be like seeing an old friend. There are things that you know and remember, but some time has gone by and there are also some new things to discover. Actor David Quicksall is returning to the role of Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew and he couldn’t be happier to revisit that rascally rogue. Turn up the volume and listen to why Dave relishes playing Petruchio.