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Williamstown Theatre Festival

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fleeting Free Time With Free Theatre PLUS a first look at the Fellowship Musical!

Danielle Thorpe getting her shrew on as Adriana (with Assistant Director Jordan Fein and Johanna watching on the sidelines) before we moved our little show into the Berkshire wilderness.
(Photo Credit: Jon Bass)

Last weekend, we introduced Johanna McKeon, director of this year’s Free Theatre Production of Shakespeare’s THE COMEDY OF ERRORS. Free Theatre is just one of the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s annual offerings, the most notable difference being that it has historically been made for family audiences to come together to, and is (you guessed it) entirely free of charge. After moving inside to the Main Stage for several years, Free Theatre is being brought back outside, which has both its own rewards and challenges for Johanna and the whole production team.

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Faced with the beautiful expanse of Poker Flats, the first question became, “What counts as our stage?”
(Photo Credit: Jon Bass)

When I caught up with Johanna the afternoon after the first productive but exhausting night of technical rehearsals (when full costumes, lights, and sound are integrated into a show for the very first time), it was certainly the challenges as opposed to the rewards that were on both our minds. As she threw together a meal with fresh farmer’s market ingredients in preparation for that night’s tech rehearsal, we looked out over the field which was in the midst of being transformed into our stage and chatted about how she's been handling the abundant challenges of helming an outdoor show and her inspiration for the world of this year’s Free Theatre production.

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An unwelcome visitor tries to rain on our parade.
(Photo Credit: Gaby Hornig)

One of the first things we both responded to after initially re-reading THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, besides its hilariously orchestrated misunderstandings, is the overwhelming fact that, as Johanna put it, “everyone is doing things for money.” The word “gold” is only mentioned more in Shakespeare’s little-performed TIMON OF ATHENS, and the words “Marks” (the currency of the city of Ephesus where the play takes place) and “mart” are spoken in Comedy (his shortest play) more times than in other play in the cannon. With an eye to making the convoluted premise more contemporary, Johanna was immediately drawn to the idea of setting the play in a Farmer’s Market, a modern equivalent of the “mart” of Shakespeare’s time where a rising merchant class lived solely to buy and sell things.

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Apprentice Molly McAdoo (one of the Ephesian market vendors who also contributes to the show’s live score) knows that nothing makes tech go smoothly like a little uke.
(Photo Credit: Nicola Martin)

This setting in mind, the cast took a field trip to the local Williamstown market on Spring Street to help the actor’s get into character. Many of the apprentices and Non-Equity company members in the cast had never been to a Farmer’s Market, and so meeting the people who work their own land for a living became a vital step in the process of bridging the world of Shakespeare’s play and our own.

Free Theatre first rehearses inside one of WTF’s rehearsal space, and only a week before they begin technical rehearsals do they move out into the field. When the cast moved from indoors to Poker Flats for the first time, Johanna realized how important the apprentices she had cast as market vendors now were not only to set the scene, but to focus the action of the play. No stranger to outdoor Shakespeare, having directed MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and CYMBELINE on Martha’s Vineyard, Johanna very clearly understood that,“outside if you’re not clear, other things,” such as encroaching stormy weather or maybe even a cameo from a woodland creature, “will be more entertaining.” She discovered that the Ephesian market vendors, as well as having distinct personas, had to be united as a kind of Chorus (not the singing-and-dancing kind you may see on the Main Stage, but here a group acting cohesively as one, sometimes commenting on the action) to react in unison to certain pivotal events; “Choruses are really helpful outdoors- I guess the Greeks knew that too!”

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When the Farmer’s Markets have been adorned with lights, and Mike Wieser (who plays the jeweler Angelo) has been adorned with a fanny pack, you know it’s show time.
(Photo Credit: Jon Bass)

In a gesture to the kind of grassroots community event that Free Theatre has always been, Johanna has invited vendors from the Spring Street market to join us on the Poker Flats field to both further set the scene, but also provide our audience with some homegrown treats during the show. Having discovered her passion for local markets while living in Germany, Johanna noted how the very contemporary Farmer’s Market vogue is in fact a tradition with an incredibly long history. We hope our production has the similar effect of allowing our audience to experience a work with as long a history as THE COMEDY OF ERRORS anew, as if for the first time.

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The only thing shining brighter than our actors is…our lights. And boy, do they shine.
(Photo Credit: Danielle Thorpe)

WTF’s Free Theatre Production of THE COMEDY OF ERRORS plays at the Poker Flats field tonight through this Saturday, the 16th, and next Tuesday the 19th through Friday the 22nd, at 7:00pm, weather permitting. Check our Free Theatre Guide for a more detailed daily forecast.

Williamstown’s own Farmer's Market, located right off of Spring Street, runs every Saturday from 8:00am-12:30pm through October.

-Eric Shethar
Production Dramaturg
Literary Intern

In other fun things going on at the Festival, have you ever wondered what its like to write a musical in just eight weeks? That's what happens every summer during the Fellowship Musical Project. This year, Nick Blaemire (Book, Music & Lyrics), Sheryl Kaller (Bill Foeller Directing Fellow), Jesse Vargas (Musical Director) and a cast made up of our wonderful non-equity company have worked together to write AFTER ROBERT HUTCHENS. Hear them talk about how they wrote the show, and get the first look at rehearsal footage!

AFTER ROBERT HUTCHENS plays at the Directing Studio in the '62 Center on July 18 & 19 at 7PM and 11PM. Call the Box Office at (413) 597-3400 to reserve your seat!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Michael Wieser is fantastic!

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