For non-theatre buffs, the mere thought of Shakespeare can be intimidating. The antiquated language and bad memories of having it drilled into your head in high school English courses combine to frighten the unfamiliar away from the Bard.
Students from the Actors Workshop Theatre and director Heidi Verwey have been working over the last two months to make the most famous playwright of all time more accessible to students and the general public with their latest production, “As You Like It.”
The play will run at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26 to 28 and March 5 to 7. Matinees are Friday Feb. 27 and March 6, both at 11:30 a.m.
Verwey is very aware of how inaccessible Shakespeare can be at times and directed her students in a way that combats that stigma.
“[I instructed them to] play this for the person in the audience who doesn’t get it. If you can engage someone who wasn’t in the beginning, then we’ve made something,” Verwey said.
The two lead roles are played by fourth-year students Jessica Buchanan, as Rosalin, and Josh Sunderman, as Orlando.
Both actors experienced challenges with the text of the play and learning their lines. Once they mastered the lines, the next obstacle was navigating and acting within a “theatre in the round,” a unique stage layout that features audience seating on four sides of the stage.
“[We are] preforming in the round. We know that not everyone can see our faces. You have to find a way to emote without facing everyone,” Sunderman said.
While Sunderman cited the round as one of his biggest challenges, Buchanan enjoyed the layout.
“I find theatre in the round kind of freeing. Especially since it’s Shakespeare. The audience can see the whole picture – they aren’t missing out on stuff. You get to see Shakespeare in its entirety. It’s quite fun and a little dangerous,” Buchanan said.
During rehearsal, Verwey made sure the actors were on point with their expressions by moving around and viewing the play from every part of the seating area.
The culmination of two months’ work and nightly rehearsals has finally come together.
“It’s really exciting. That one point in rehearsal when you say the line right, the lights are on and you have that moment, of, ‘yeah, I just killed that.’ You get the physicality right, the line right, you get the expression right; you know you look good. When it all comes together, that’s the most rewarding [part],” Buchanan said.
Many of the actors did “double duties” in this show, according to Verwey. Maddi Hartloff and Kaliey Clark are both in the production, and created the costumes. Two of the assistant stage managers have roles as well. All of this combined effort has resulted in a “truly ensemble piece,” Verwey said.
“These two are the leads. They should be the be all and end all of romantic leads, but they are just such good team players, they let everyone else play,” Verwey said of Buchanan and Sunderman.
“As You Like It” features the main love story of Rosalin and Orlando and many other side relationships. This play encompasses all types of relationships, familial and romantic, and at its core, it is simply about love.
Why should students spend a romantic evening in the round, experiencing Shakespeare?
“It’s still relevant, with universal themes [of] love, gender dynamics and family relationships. Just because it’s Shakespeare, it shouldn’t draw people away. He is as important and well known for a reason,” Sunderman said.
“I can’t think of a reason not to. It’s Shakespeare, it’s set in the 60’s, it’s fun. You get to learn things. You get to see parts of other people’s lives, and maybe your own life, unfold right in front of you,” Buchanan said.