Hampshire Shakespeare Company production showcase
By LEAH BERKENWALD, Gazette Intern
Saturday, August 11, 2001 -- The Hampshire Shakespeare Company has brought an Elizabethan tradition - apprentice actors - back into full swing.
In the 1500s, performance of certain themes and content were not allowed in the cities. However, underage apprentice actors could perform in the city without being arrested, and the adult actors performed for lords out in the country.
Although the Hampshire Shakespeare company has no fear of arrest, the group's Young Company follows in the footsteps of those Elizabethan apprentices. These youths observe the adults playing their parts, and then perform small roles in the adult performance. The weekend after the regular company's performance, they take over and perform their own. "They did their parts in such a way that we could really understand the play and see at least one way to play the character, but there was also room for interpretation," said Rebecca Markarian, who played Corin, a shepherd in "As You Like It."
The Young Company's version of "As You Like It," a Shakespearean comedy, was performed outdoors for three nights at the Hartsbrook School in Hadley last month.
"What is artistically thrilling is how the young actors take what they observe from the older actors playing their parts and make it their own," said Tim Holcombe, one of the founding directors of the Hampshire Shakespeare Company. Laura Patnode, the director of the Young Company, says that with kids "you have to be more relaxed." She also was amazed at how much input the kids had in the final presentation. "It's their show," she said.
Shakespeare's play tells the story of Rosalind, who has fled from her oppressive uncle Duke Frederick to the forest of Arden. She disguises herself as a boy. In the forest she meets her love, Orlando, who has also fled from Duke Frederick. to the forest. Because Rosalind is disguised, Orlando does not recognize her and asks her to impersonate his Rosalind so he can practice wooing her.
This production of "As You Like It" was set in the 1960s. The characters living in the Forest of Arden were dressed in vibrant and psychedelic hippie costumes, contrasting with the characters at court, who dressed conservatively. Most of the vintage 60s clothing belonged to Laura Patnode herself. In fact, the outfit that the character Rosalind wore when she became "Ganymede" was the same outfit Patnode wore when she hitchhiked across the country. Patnode said that it made her look more masculine which was safer for travel, the same reason Rosalind decides to dress like a man. She said that the idea to set the play in the 1960s belonged to Andy Lichtenberg, director of the adult company. The idea was that when the characters travel to the forest, it shows a "back to the earth" theme similar to a hippie mantra. Also contributing to the theme, Drew Lichtenberg composed and performed original songs for the performance.
It was impressive how the actors understood the language well enough to bring out all of the jokes, especially Marissa Sicely who played Touchstone, a clown. Kelly Juno was an impressive and flawless Rosalind. She didn't want to copy how the adult company portrayed the heroine, so her Rosalind is a "smart young woman, down-to-earth." Juno wanted to be "more sarcastic, like a teenager." Emily List played Celia, her loving cousin. "Since the play focuses on love, her character comes out through her opinion on love, while Rosalind is more grounded and sweet," List said. Paul De Vries played the charming and innocent Orlando delightfully. De Vries said that observing the adults helped him develop his character and understand the old English text.
Will Fletcher played a good Oliver, elder brother to Orlando, and was able to make the switch from "bad guy" to "good guy" honest and believable. Margot Isman, Silvius, was a perfect redneck, cowboy hat and all. Melissa Demetres' crowd-pleasing snorts added to her hilarious character, Audrey the country wench.
Sean Vaughn-Houseman, who portrays Jacques, a solitary and melancholy wanderer, was extraordinary. Jacques is a difficult character to understand, but Vaughn-Houseman was able to explain himself to the audience through clear speech and his own understanding of the character. He is "the character Shakespeare used to show his own feelings of the world," Vaughn-Houseman said.
Other colorful characters and noteworthy performances were contributed by Ben Hart as Adam; Ben Mew as Charles; Arla Jean Berman as Duke Senior and Catrin Lloyd-Bollard as Phoebe.
Leah Berkenwald is a junior at Hampshire Regional High School.