Four Shakespeare plays open next week in Laramie as part of the University of Wyoming's Shakespeare Project. Then, they’ll all fan out across the state on tour. (See below for locations.) The plays are staged in the signature style of Actors From The London Stage—just five actors and minimal props. One of the plays coming to Wyoming is a professional production. The other three are University of Wyoming student productions, directed by Actors From The London Stage.
Rehearsals began back in January. “It’s five actors creating a world out of almost nothing,” explains Paul O’Mahony, who, fittingly, is directing Much Ado About Nothing. This is not your standard performance. With only five actors to play upward of 20 roles, there are a lot of logistics to sort out. The actors use minimal costume changes to signal different characters.
“I think it’s a great way of stirring up imagination and creativity,” he says. “I mean, how can we use one item—like a scarf—and make it become three different costumes? So it can become like a tie, it can become a headscarf, and it can become a belt.”
With the actors juggling so many roles, director Roger May has written a cast list in Shakespearean style to keep it straight for the audience…
“…which explains how each character is represented, so they will show that costume change, that subtle costume change that is required—be that a scarf or a hat or a cane, or whatever,” says May.
But a cast list and costume changes alone aren’t enough to signal a character change—especially when those changes cross gender. “We’re British. That’s what we do. We love cross-dressing,” jokes O’Mahony.
He and his fellow directors have encouraged their actors to make bold physical choices to represent their various roles. UW Senior Aimée Joy Woodard is one of the student actors. She’s playing five characters in Much Ado, and only one is female.
“Beatrice. [Then there’s] Don John—he’s the villain, Balthazar, Boy, who just has couple of lines, and Verges. So we’re playing cross-gender roles all over the place, which is a ton of fun,” she says.
“It helps that I’m not a soprano,” she adds, “that I’m able to play with my voice in a way that can differentiate my main woman character, Beatrice, and Don John.”
And there’s one more twist to these productions—where different voices are really important. That’s when two of an actor’s characters are on stage at the same time. Student actor Cody Mock, also a senior at UW, is playing four roles in the Merchant of Venice, and there’s a scene where two of them are talking to each other.
Mock explains the scene where his characters are conversing. “Antonio is moping around with his friends, and then some of his other friends show up—Gratiano being one them—and Gratiano bursts in and is loud and obnoxious like he always is and tries to cheer him up.”
“And the thing that we gave to Cody was to make the physicalities completely different between Antonio and Gratiano.” Anna Wright is directing the Merchant of Venice. She says it’s fun for the audience to get to watch the play, and at the same time... “You know, you watch him and you feel such empathy for him, and you enjoy it—you’re on the ride with him, because you know what he’s having to do. It adds to this whole thing, being able to see the behind the scenes stuff,” says Wright.
But if all of this sounds a bit crazy—in other words, a lot of work for the audience—not so, says Roger May. In contrast to big shows, these minimalist productions offer great clarity.
“Especially now that you get big Broadway productions and you get more and more musicals; they’re all trying to out-do each other, it seems to me, and spending millions on sets and special effects and flying helicopters in and—you know, whatever. You don’t need it,” says May.
Maybe the difference here is how the players light up the audience’s imagination. As Shakespeare himself wrote in Henry V: “Think when we talk of horses, that you see them…For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings.”
THE SHAKESPEARE PROJECT TOUR DATES (tour performances are free; Laramie performances are ticketed)
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
March 1, Laramie WY, University of Wyoming, Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts Main Stage, 7:30 p.m.
March 4, Laramie WY, University of Wyoming, Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts Main Stage, 7:30 p.m.
March 11, Sheridan WY, Mars Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
March 12, Thermopolis, WY, Hot Springs County High School Auditorium, 7:00 p.m.
Third tour performance pending
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
March 2, Laramie WY, University of Wyoming, Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts Main Stage, 7:30 p.m.
March 5, Laramie WY, University of Wyoming, Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts Main Stage, 7:30 p.m.
March 12, Green River, WY, Green River High School Theatre, 7:00 p.m.
March 11, Stage III Theatre, Casper, 7:30 p.m.
March 13, Lyman, WY, Lyman High School Performing Arts Center, 7:30 p.m.
MERCHANT OF VENICE
March 3, Laramie WY, University of Wyoming, Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts Main Stage, 7:30 p.m.
March 6, Laramie WY, University of Wyoming, Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts Main Stage, 7:30 p.m.
March 13, Cheyenne, WY, LCCC Playhouse, 7:30 p.m.
ACTORS FROM THE LONDON STAGE/MACBETH TOUR
March 7, Laramie, WY, University of Wyoming, Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts Main Stage, 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (both performances are sold out)
March 10, Riverton, WY, Central Wyoming College, 7:30 p.m.
March 11, Lander, WY, Lander Valley High School, 7:30 p.m.
March 12, Jackson, WY, Center for the Arts, 7:00 p.m.