Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Quick Chat with Romeo




What is your name and character?
Stephen Ruffin and I am playing Romeo Montague 

 Where did you go to college?
The University of Florida....GO GATORS!!


 How long have you been acting at the Tavern? 
Since August 2014 when I was in the Apprentice Company along with Trey York and Kevin Roost!

 What was your first encounter with Shakespeare?
My mom introduced his work to me in the 2nd grade! R&J and Hamlet were my first two.


 What made you want to work at the Tavern?
Performing Shakespeare on a professional level had been a goal of mine since I began acting, and I was familiar with the Tavern because I grew up in Atlanta and had always heard good things


Who is a person who influenced your decision to be an actor?
I had an acting professor my freshman year of college that became a mentor to me. He's a constant reminder of why I love to do this.

 Favorite memory on stage
Easy. Doing devised hip-hop theatre in college. 

 What do you hope to matinee students take away from the show?
How incredible of an avenue theatre can be to convey important messages, AND be incredibly entertaining.


10. What other performance styles have you done? tv, film, dance, etc.  (include picture if you have one)
Tv, film and dance!
This picture is from Sleepy Hollow on Fox



11.  What does it feel like to be in one of Shakespeare's most famous works?

Pretty surreal to have the chance to portray one of the most famous characters in literature, especially at a professional level. I feel pretty privileged every night I'm out there on stage.


Submitted by 
Amanda Lindsey McDonald
Education Social Media Specialist

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A quaint interview with young Juliet

What is your name and character?
       My name is Hayley Platt and I am playing Juliet (and Gregory too, so I get to have a swashing blow!).

Where did you go to college?
       I went to the University of Georgia and received a B.A. in Theatre Performance and Classical Culture.

How long have you been acting with the Atlanta Shakespeare Company?
       I was a Tavern Apprentice in 2012-2013, so this is my  fourth season with the tavern.

What was your first encounter with Shakespeare?
       I barely remember a time I didn't have Shakespeare in my life. My mom, Carol Platt, has ingrained Shakespeare (The god of my idolatry) and a love for his work into me for so long I don't feel like myself without it. I remember being about 7 or so and watching the Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet with Mom, I demanded that we act out the balcony scene and proceeded to climb the bookshelf so I could be Juliet from the top of my bookshelf balcony. Mom would quote Shakespeare all the time and she would put on different film versions from the BBC for me to watch as well. I would have to check with her but I'm 90% positive my first live Shakespeare was at the Shakespeare tavern in the late 90's.  Probably A Midsummer Night's Dream because after Juliet, Puck has always been one of my favorites. Now back to my Mom, she was the first one to not only mention acting to me but to encourage it, however what I loved about her encouragement was that she never pressed or pushed her thoughts on me. She would lead me with a quick, "Hayley, there's this audition...." or "Oo, your school is doing this, and I know your busy but maybe...". She always encouraged me to try and that was the big thing, you might feel overextended with other commitments but even if you think you have no chance at a part, you should try

      Now, working at the Tavern has been a childhood dream for a long time. I never thought I would do it, but when I checked off a few other childhood dreams (Working for Disney, Traveling the World, Tried being Indiana Jones a.k.a. studied Archaeology for three months in Greece, etc.), I decided to tackle this one. I had finished touring, gone back to finish my degree, and I knew I wanted to stay in Atlanta, so I only auditioned for one Theatre company, The Shakespeare Tavern. The Tavern has been a place for food, fun, and many memories most of my life and I couldn't think of another place I would rather intern with.

What is you favorite memory so far of being on stage?
      My favorite memory on stage, could you pick a harder question? There are so many, first one is a more recent memory during Midsummer when the fire alarm went off, the fog juice didn't go and so the dry ice smoke set off the alarm. This went on through most of the last part of the show, and sharing that moment with Matt Nitchie while he poked Titania (Mary Russell) in the cheek while beeping along to the alarm about did me in, thus the sound continued up until, "Fairy King attend and mark, I don't hear the fire alarm?!". One other Matt Nitchie inspired favorite moment is during MacB, he was playing my Dad, Banquo and I as his son Fleance came running out going up the stairs, and fell flat on my face. Without missing a beat, Matt, as my dad, picked me up by the scruff of my neck, brushed me off, ruffled my hair and continued to speak his lines. I don't know if he heard the many "aw, that's so sweet!" comments from the audience but from my point of view it was adorable and sweet and it showed our relationship as Dad and son so well and covered my embarrassment. 

Have you ever had am awkward moment on stage?
      Awkward moment? Well, I have one from 2014 when I was in the Alliance Theatre's "The Tall Girls". Now since I am 5 ft tall it was very funny to be in this show, but it was imagery for walking tall. Anyway, the play was about a girls basketball team in the midwest in the 1930's, so we actually played a basketball game with a hoop and everything during the show, with alternate dialog depending on who scored and which plays I called as the point guard. This one time (it happened more but never to this extent), the ball flew into the audience, since this wasn't the Shakespeare Tavern, we had a fourth wall, so up till this point we had ignored the audience completely. All of a sudden five frantic girls rushed the audience. We continued grappling and stealing the ball over the audiences heads, falling into little old ladies in their dresses, and men in their suits, it was chaos. My character Puppy was the nervous type so instead of grappling for the ball I went from patron to patron apologizing continuously in my characters voice and mannerisms. In fact I spent so much time apologizing I didn't realize that the game had resumed on stage until the other four girls yelled, "PUPPY!" across the stage and the audience. It was a strange moment of being Hayley and realizing I was no longer in the show and Puppy realizing she had "disappointed" her teammates. It's a good memory but I still blush thinking about it. 

What do you hope the matinee students take away from the performance?
      I love education performances at the Shakespeare Tavern, for many Atlanta students this might be their first live show. I love being a part of that first memory. I hope that what they take away from this show is that Romeo and Juliet aren't stupid and rash, they are desperate. I want students to be swept away in their series of unfortunate events. I hope that they leave with a new appreciation for communication (between family and friends), poetry and it's power, and above all belief in themselves that words which are the smallest of things have the biggest impact. This is a tragic tale of what can happen if you hold onto hate instead of embracing love. Yes, Romeo and Juliet is the title but the story is about two families, of which R&J represent, and how much it costs these two factions before they realize what they need to cherish, not reputation or their own wounded pride, but their family and friends. 

What other types of performances have you done in your career?

      Oh, the stuff I've done from Disney to concept Shakespeare, Bollywood to African Jazz. The styles change but the purpose of entertainment doesn't. Entertainment gives pleasure, pause, and revelation. If for two hours I can make you forget the world outside of this story and let you leave thinking or yearning, then for that two hours traffic on this stage, it will have been well worth it. 


What does it feel like to be in one of Shakespeare's most famous works?
      Judi Dench said; for an actor, Shakespeare is a bottomless well. You can do the play a hundred times and it might take till the 100th performance before you find the perfect way to phrase a line, at least for that moment. Above all I am humbled to play this part, I have seen many Juliets, both on stage and in film. This play is a memory for every person who sees it because trust me every person in that audience knows something about this play. It's not like Marina in Pericles where no one knows what to expect, everyone has an expectation of what "their" Juliet is like. Is this daunting? Oh yes. But is it scary, no. 

Because everything I need was written 400 years ago, every breath, every nuance, every bit of information I need to know is right there in the text. All I have to do as the actor is breath life into every line, tell the story, rides the waves, and know that i have done my homework. I may not be every person's vision of Juliet, but I know that I have created something I am proud of and if you are in a famous Shakespearean work or in a brand new play, that is all that you can ask of yourself, that you are proud to perform and share what you have created. I am besotted by Shakespeare, I hope to ignite many hearts and souls with my performance and I am so grateful to Jeff for the opportunity to do so. 


Submitted by Amanda Lindsey McDonald
Education Social Media Specialist

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Dani Herd reflects on As You Like It


Greetings from the forest of Arden! We've entered our final week of As You Like It here at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse. Weirdly enough, our final week also marks our first week of student matinees! On Tuesday and Wednesday, we performed for 300 students. Confession time: When it comes to performing at the Tavern, I am always more nervous about student matinees than I am about evening performances.
     Being the nerd that I am was a lot harder when I was in school. I've been “more than common tall,” as Rosalind says, for as long as I can remember. My personal style included oversized Hawaiian shirts from the mens' section of Kohl's. I wrote a lot of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fanfiction. Fortunately, I've always been lucky enough to have a merry band of fellows in nerddom surrounding me. The girls who have been my best friends since middle school are the same girls that sat beside me in the balcony on our first field trip to the Shakespeare Tavern back in 2003. We ate those amazing cheesecake brownies, drank ginger ale, and I made a vow that I would one day end up on the Tavern stage.
     Even with that amazing core of friendship in my life, I struggled to feel at home in my own skin as a teenager. The boys at my school certainly didn't know what to make of me. I was tall, I was loud, I was bossy, and I was smart. A male classmate told me once very seriously that no one wanted to date me because I was so outspoken. Even at age 26, I think of that classmate when I am around high school students. I imagine they can smell the nerd fumes coming off of me. When I perform for high schoolers during matinees, I still worry that they're sitting in the dark and making fun of me.
     Rosalind is tall. Rosalind is loud and bossy and outspoken and smart. I cannot believe that I have been fortunate enough to portray her for almost nine weeks altogether over the course of the 2015-2016 season. When our director Andy sent me a text that read simply “Rosalind in June?” last spring, I was both panicked and thrilled. At the time, I didn't relate to Rosalind. I thought she was better than me. Prettier, wittier, and ultimately more deserving of love. Between the initial run of As You Like It over the summer and the current remount, I have found so much joy and peace in realizing the things that I think she and I have in common.
     Playing Rosalind is like fulfilling a million different childhood dreams at once. At different points in the play, I get to channel a Disney princess, Hermione Granger, Carol Burnett, and even Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation. But I also get to channel Dani, which didn’t used to feel like a dream at all. As Rosalind, I get to be weird and tall and loud and passionate, and I still get to kiss the kind, beautiful guy at the end. And if the audience is laughing at me, it probably means that I did something funny.

     As I type this, there are three more performances of As You Like It. So, come on down and laugh at us, students and grown-ups alike! If you have already seen the production, thank you so much for laughing or smiling or applauding or saying nice things to us in the lobby after the play. You have made this tall nerd deliriously grateful and happy. 

Dani Herd

Monday, January 25, 2016

Changing the World with Shakespeare! Ted talk with Guy Roberts

Education Director Laura Cole and Artistic Director Jeff Watkins are attending Shakespeare Theatre Association conference next week.  Guy Roberts is also attending!  He is the Artistic Director of the Prague Shakespeare Company.  Here is a link to a TED talk he did on Speaking Shakespeare!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=su2L2NWm3kU

Also, here is a link to the Shakespeare Theatre Association website!

www.stahome.org

Amanda Lindsey McDonald
Education Social Media Specialist

Saturday, January 16, 2016

“Dances and Delight”: Dancing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

This week, ASC actors took to the stage at two local schools to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is a play that is full of dances and references to dance.  The fairies are especially associated with dance, but the dances that Oberon and Titania, the sparring fairy king and queen, refer to are unfamiliar to our modern ears.  They talk about Elizabethan dances like the measure, the brawl, and the bergomask, names that would have has been as familiar to Shakespeare’s audience as hit the quan and whip and nae nae are to younger audiences today.  So how do modern productions deal with the fact that most audiences today no longer understand the references to Elizabethan dances that serve as imagery or characterization in the play?  
In ASC’s production, the Elizabethan references to dance remained but the audience understood that the fairies were inclined to dance because of the frequency with which the fairies frolicked on the stage.  One fairy leaped in ballet-inspired moves while Puck galloped and jumped and even performed a brief pas de deux, a dance between a female and male dancer in a ballet, with an actor playing one of Titania’s attendants.  The actors did not need to gather in the circles of the Elizabethan round or jump with the thumping foot stomps of the brawl for the audience to appreciate the dancing nature of the fairies, and the production as a whole showed that there are many ways to make this dance-heavy play accessible to audiences who are not familiar with Elizabethan dances.
            The amount of dancing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream has made it a popular Shakespearean subject for choreographers like the New York City Ballet’s George Balanchine.  Take a look at his choreography for the fairies in his 1962 ballet based on Shakespeare’s play, most recently performed in 2015 by the New York City Ballet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzErTHNQw_Q.

-          Samantha Smith, Education and Development Coordinator 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

R&J: 60- A Creation Story

Adam King, ASC Elementary & Homeschool Programs Coordinator as
Romeo and Kati Grace Brown as Juliet Photo Credit: Daniel Parvis Photography


It is probably no surprise that year after year the Atlanta Shakespeare Company receives the most student matinee ticket requests for Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Countless students of all ages, particularly freshmen English students, encounter this play and the wisest of teachers plan to spend one of their coveted fieldtrip spots on a trip to our Playhouse to see those immortal words brought to life. And year after year, no matter how we try to modify our performance schedule in order to accommodate each and every school group, some schools are left on the waiting list without having the chance to experience a performance. As an administrator with the Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s Education Department, this fact troubled me. As a professional actress with the company who auditioned for our yearly rendition of this play time and time again only to walk away with an ever-growing sense that I might never have the opportunity to captivate an audience with Juliet’s text, I saw an opportunity. As a woman quickly approaching thirty coveting the role of a thirteen year-old, I was running out of time. I charged ahead. 

Out of respect for the incredible work done by our colleagues in the Georgia Shakespeare Festival’s Education Department deploying touring productions to schools through Georgia and, I believe, the surrounding states, ASC had always passed on the suggestion that we “throw six actors in a van” to reach a greater number of schools. Our two theatre both shared a commitment to present Shakespeare’s plays to the citizens of Atlanta, albeit through completely different performance styles. However, when the Georgia Shakespeare Festival’s doors closed, much to our dismay and the dismay of the greater Atlanta theatre community, it seemed that now there was a terribly important and valuable void to fill. As a Department, we became committed to the powerful and valuable mission that the Georgia Shakespeare Festival began to serve school populations that, for whatever reason, simply could not venture to us.

Teaching Artists O’Neil Delapenha, Vinnie Mascola and
Mary Ruth Ralston as Mercutio, Lord Capulet and 
Lady Capulet with Adam King and Kati Grace Brown as Romeo and Juliet. 
Credit: Daniel Parvis Photography

The first challenge was to adapt the script of Romeo and Juliet for five actors. Our company utilizes a style of performance known as Original Practice, and, in observance of that style, we rarely cut very much of a play, choosing rather to bring the existing text to life in accordance with what we believe Shakespeare’s actors would have done. I took on the task of script adaptation, inspired by the incredible, hour-long Shakespeare productions toured by the Barter Players of Virginia’s Barter Theatre, and I found a great deal of joy in the puzzle-like task of doubling and tripling characters in practical and thematically-driven ways. I drew further inspiration from being afforded the opportunity to design the script to fit myself and my dear and trusted colleagues in the Education Department. I mention that the cast was entirely made up of teaching artists already employed by ASC because, while our Artistic Director had greenlit the project for a trial run in Winter 2015, it was with the understanding that payroll and other costs be kept down wherever possible. The costumes, props and set were scavenged from pieces that we already had in-house with the intention that Capulets would wear green, Montagues blue, and royalty purple. While not the most nuanced of choices, the bold colors identifying clan and status certainly helped our younger audiences keep track of who was who amidst the seven- and twelve-second costume changes. Promotional shots were taken and every school on our waiting list was contacted and offered this alternative experience.
The Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse stage.
Credit: Daniel Parvis Photography 


One thousand, one hundred and eight students saw our first tour of Romeo and Juliet Abridged at various venues including one completely free performance in-house on the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse stage, a performance for an audience comprised entirely of students with special learning needs and another for students in an at-risk intervention group whose mission is to inspire and challenge Atlanta Metro eighth graders to stay in school. That turnout was accumulated with no official publicity besides a handful of personal emails sent by members of our staff to our wait-listed teachers. We immediately made plans to offer the tour again, rebranded as R&J:60, and to seek funding partnerships to widen its scope.

During the fall of 2015, the previous cast returned for a successful fall tour in which we upgraded the look of our product by bringing in a professional costume designer. ASC invested in brand-new rapiers for us to bring out on the road and our Board of Directors generously gifted us a fifteen-seat passenger van, which was a great improvement over shoving set pieces into our personal vehicles or repeatedly renting a van or truck. We partnered with the City of Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs to offer 1,000 free tickets to Atlanta Public High School students at our Playhouse. In total, we reached 10,415 students. And after a year of being the guinea pigs, our original cast will hang up our Velcro costumes pieces and pass the torch to the 2016 crew.

Based on the enthusiastic response to our first tour, we submitted an application for the NEA Shakespeare in American Communities grant, in which we proposed to bring R&J: 60 to schools in under-served and rural communities throughout Georgia and were graciously funded enough money to do just that. Our six person tour troupe will visit nineteen schools throughout the state from February through May 2016 and bring our abridged production and interactive workshops to approximately 9,740 students who would not otherwise be able to take advantage of our programs.
Adam King as Romeo brings the Balcony Scene to life 
as 600 McIntosh High School 
(Peachtree City, GA) students look on. 
Credit: Daniel Parvis Photography

There is no way for me to express the utter joy that I felt each and every day working on my two tours as Juliet, as well as Gregory and Tybalt. I have admitted many times that while the core mission was always to bring Shakespeare to more students, it was with no small bit of selfish motivation that the idea for this program was conceived. For a while I felt a certain amount of guilt in the relish I took playing this iconic role, surrounded by my friends and Shakespeare family. The number of students that we have reached with Shakespeare’s words and their enthusiastic reactions to watching us perform absolves me.

Charging ahead once more, as I seem to know no other pace, it is with attempted grace and humility that I prepare to head back into the rehearsal hall of the 2016 R&J:60 in a new role as assistant director. I cannot wait to see what a new cast will do with these words and I am thrilled beyond measure to send them off into Georgia, inspiring students of all kinds. But, in particular, it is my hope that perhaps they might inspire a new generation of young ladies who will share my passion to utilize creativity in order to overcome obstacles and perform one of Shakespeare’s leading ladies themselves, no matter how unlikely.  

Written by Kati Grace Brown
Educational Programs Producer, Atlanta Shakespeare Company


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Giving Thanks in Shakespeare's Plays

            My name is Samantha Smith, and I am delighted to join the Atlanta Shakespeare Company as the Education and Development Coordinator.  I first became a Shakespeare fan when I was eleven and saw Macbeth at Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach and since then my love of seeing Shakespeare’s plays performed has taken me from Stratford, Canada to Stratford-upon-Avon, England.  I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing nineteen separate Shakespeare plays performed, and I’m thrilled that I will have a chance to see many more performed on the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse stage.  Although I have spent most of my life in Memphis, Tennessee, I am coming to Atlanta from London, where I earned my master’s degree in Shakespeare Studies from University College London.  I am passionate about encouraging students to investigate and enjoy Shakespeare’s plays through watching and participating in performances, so I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the work of the Education Department here at the Atlanta Shakespeare Company.

            Gratitude is a common theme around Thanksgiving so in the spirit of the holiday I investigated how Shakespeare’s characters express thanks.  Characters give thanks to the heavens and to other characters quite frequently in Shakespeare’s canon; variations on the word “thank” appear a whopping 489 times in the plays (Open Source Shakespeare).  Often, the characters expressing gratitude speak much as we do now, saying “thanks” (All’s Well That Ends Well 2.3.77), “I thank you” (Cymbeline 4.4.33), and, in a more Elizabethan phrase, “I thank ye” (Henry VIII 5.5.70).  Sometimes, they illustrate their thanks more simply, commenting that they “humbly thank” someone (All’s Well That Ends Well 3.5.97) and offering “a thousand thanks” (The Taming of the Shrew 2.3.84).   Perhaps the prettiest expression of thanks comes from Sebastian, speaking to Antonio in Twelfth Night:  “I can no other answer make but thanks,/And thanks; and ever thanks” (3.3.14-15).  We at the Atlanta Shakespeare Company would like to say “ever thanks” to our patrons, donors, and many students who investigate and celebrate Shakespeare’s plays with us.  Happy Thanksgiving! 

Works Cited
Bevington, David, ed.  The Complete Works of Shakespeare.  London: Longman Publishing,
2004. Print.

Open Source Shakespeare.  George Mason University.  2015.  Web.  19 November 2015.   

Submitted by Samantha Smith, Education and Development Coordinator