Shakespeare for the uninitiated: Theater, actors team up for innovative new show

MIDDLEBURY — An original, fast-paced initiative of the Town Hall Theater’s educational outreach arm has combined favorite scenes from Shakespeare’s most popular plays into one performance.
Called “Straight-up Shakespeare: The Things We Do for Love,” the 50-minute romp through the drama-filled world of Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies is THT’s answer to increasing requests for live Shakespeare shows.
“Teachers were saying, ‘Gee, it’d be great to have something where we can see Shakespeare every time we teach it,’” said director Lindsay Pontius. “Shakespeare is my bailiwick and background, and I thought that was something the education program could really provide.”
In collaboration with teachers from Middlebury Union High School and a company of six local actors from the Middlebury Actors Workshop, Pontius and MAW director Melissa Lourie have created what they intend to be a funny and poignant romp through seven of Shakespeare’s most-taught plays, including “Othello,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
The play — and the actors — will be on call for any local classroom teacher or education program.
“The intention is to have a live Shakespeare performance available for whoever wants to take advantage of it,” said Pontius.
The scenes are interspersed with lively, actor-driven explanations of theme and plot, and a workshop after the performance inserts audience members into the experience by allowing them to direct and rework scenes.
Pontius said that the interactive workshops are a popular part of the performance.
“We bring everybody in, and I think the students have found that it really gets them involved in what the language is and what the actors are doing,” she said.
Lourie, who also performs in the six-person company, said that the entire process has been a “true collaboration” among teachers, actors, directors and students.
“The company started out writing it, then we kept revising it and editing it,” Lourie recalled. “Then teachers came and gave us feedback and that actually caused us to toss the script out and start over.”
Then the actors had their say.
“The actors are really passionate about Shakespeare,” Pontius added. “So it’s really cool, you’ve got everybody’s different interpretation.”
Lourie concurred, noting that the script is a living document that changes based on company discussions and audience feedback.
“It’s been a process where you really have to put your ego aside,” she laughed. “Because you do something and (the company) often tells you, ‘Argh! That’s terrible.’ But our goal is really to have something that is entertaining and instructive at the same time … It keeps changing.”
Though the performance was originally created for students, responses to its piloted performances at THT in April (which were attended by students from MUHS and Mount Abraham Union High and Mary Hogan Elementary schools) were enthusiastic, so much so that the show is being prepared for a public showing at A.R.T. on July 13 and 14.
“The teachers and the ushers all said, do this for the public,” Pontius said. “So that’s what we’re going to do.”
Pontius and Lourie hope that the play will also attract adults that find Shakespeare daunting or inaccessible.
“Students are incredibly open to Shakespeare because of its size, the fighting and the dying and the passionate stuff,” Lourie said. “But there are a lot of adults (who are less open). I always think of my brother, who always comes to my Shakespeare plays and doesn’t like them, ever. He never understands them. He says he just doesn’t get it. And he actually said, ‘I would want to come see this, I want to be able to see what’s in it that I’ve been unable to see.’”
The play will be performed for the public at the Hannaford Center’s A.R.T. Black Box Theater on July 13 at 8 p.m. and July 14 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased through the Town Hall Theater Box Office by calling 382-9222, or online at www.townhalltheater.org.

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