This year, the Worcester Shakespeare Company is pleased to begin working with our new stage: The New Napkin Stage. Designed by Peter McCurdy and crafted using period technology by artisan Michael Burrey and his staff, the New Napkin Stage is very similar to the stages Shakespeare and his players would have worked on. For more information on construction of the stage, check out the Blue Oak blog’s post, including pictures and descriptions of the process.
By Richard Duckett TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF (Published February 27, 2013)
The Worcester Shakespeare Company will return this summer for a second season at the Alternatives Whitin Mill Complex in the Whitinsville section of Northbridge.
The season, running from July 10 to Aug. 25, will consist of two productions — William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” and a new work, “The Merchant of Whitinsville,” which is intended to be a “companion piece” exploring themes of anti-Semitism as well as being dedicated to the work of the Alternatives organization, according to WSC’s Producing Artistic Director, Mel Cobb.
Performances will take place both at the outdoor plaza at the mill complex at 50 Douglas Road, Whitinsville, and inside at its GB and Lexi Singh Performance Center.
“Everyone was very pleased with last summer at Whitinsville,” Mr. Cobb said.
However, he added that there is a potential for an additional week of performances in Worcester at the end of August if an “appropriate venue” can be found. WSC had previously staged outdoor productions at Memorial Grove Amphitheatre at Green Hill Park in Worcester. The move from there to Alternatives last year came about for “various unalterable reasons,” Mr. Cobb said at the time. He had acknowledged giving some thought to dissolving the entire operation prior to entering into an agreement with Alternatives. The season there was shorter than the one planned for 2013, and consisted of one production, “Othello.”
WSC was founded by Mr. Cobb in 2010 to fill the gap left by the demise of the Redfeather Theatre Company, which had staged the Worcester Shakespeare Festival at Green Hill Park from 2004 to 2009. Mr. Cobb, a veteran Shakespearean actor and director with credits nationally and internationally who now lives in Western Massachusetts, was the artistic director of Redfeather when the company was dissolved in the fall of 2009.
City of Worcester officials have consistently expressed hope that WSC will perform in Worcester again, and the company has retained some important Worcester connections.
As in the past, WSC’s cast will rehearse this summer at Clark University, and also build some of the sets and create and make costumes there, Mr. Cobb said.
Meanwhile, the outdoor productions in Whitinsville will be on a newly constructed stage based on historical precedents of Elizabethan and Jacobean playhouses. The stage — which will probably be built in Plymouth using local craftsmen — will be based on designs by Peter McGurdy, Master Builder of the Globe Theatre in London, a reconstruction of the Elizabethan playhouse where Shakespeare staged most of his plays. Mr. Cobb spent 15 years in England working on the Globe Theatre project. The new stage will be able to be moved to other outdoor sites for WSC performances.
Alternatives is a nonprofit human services agency currently serving more than 1,200 adults with developmental and psychiatric disabilities in 55 residential, employment and day programs throughout Central Massachusetts. Alternatives also runs the Whitin Mill complex, which includes an art gallery, the theater and the outdoor plaza. It has been active in bringing in theater and other performing groups to the facility.
“Having Worcester Shakespeare Company performing on our community plaza last year was a great success from Alternatives’ perspective,” said Tom Saupe, Director of Community Outreach for Alternatives. “WSC brought a new audience to our Whitin Mill complex, helping to expand the community’s awareness of our mission of inclusion for people with disabilities. We are looking forward to the first full season with WSC and their expanded use of both our outdoor plaza and the Singh Performance Center for indoor theater.”
The regular performance schedule this year is 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays. Mr. Cobb said ticket prices will be the same as last year — $20; $15 students and seniors; children 12 and younger free with accompanying adult
Mr. Cobb will play the role of Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice.” He said he has never acted the part before or even appeared in a full production of the play. “It’s one of the canon of roles that every actor should want to play and should play,” he said.
Many company members from last year will be returning, including William Sigalis of Worcester. The company itself will be credited with the authorship of “The Merchant of Whitinsville,” Mr. Cobb said. He has devised the general “template,” but the play will be developed during the rehearsal period, he said.
WSC will hold auditions in late May. Details will be announced on the company’s website,www.worcestershakespearecompany.org.
Contact Richard Duckett at firstname.lastname@example.org
I launch this blog about “Shakespeare” with not just a little trepidation. Let me count some of the ways: an unnatural dread of the whole concept… even the name is distasteful…(whoever invented the word should be hung by the heels from a door-jamb and forced to listen to an ever-repeating sound-loop of the word being spoken)… because one more soapbox for the crazies is just what the world needs…because anyone who stands up and asks to be filleted for his opinions about Shakespeare should have his head examined…because everyone needs yet another open-ended demand on their time…because anyone who assumes that even one more person should be interested in their opinions probably requires therapy, or at least needs to pay for the privilege…because there’s not enough written about Shakespeare already…and there aren’t enough reasons NOT engage in the exercise.
Why THEATRE at all? We go to the theatre because the participants—actor and audience–are alive in the same place (as opposed to film or television where the story-tellers are not even aware that anyone else is there). Call it “immediacy”. And because we hope to see/hear/recognize ourselves…but better; bigger, stronger, smarter…more successful, more articulate…more devious, more evil…more able to “get away with it.”
Why Shakespeare (above all the others)? Because even though we give all the others a chance; even though the others may hold our interest for a short time; ultimately, by comparison, we are slightly disappointed with them in the end. Only Shakespeare has held our interest through the centuries.
We seem to be so jealous—and at the same time endlessly admiring–of what he accomplished that we continue to argue about whether or not he even existed; or at least, whether or not he wrote his own plays. Apparently, what he accomplished is so wonderous, it’s difficult for us lesser mortals to conceive that the bare facts of his life could possibly explain such invention. In the opinion of some, he invented the human. Some.
Such ambivalence may explain why there is nothing worse than bad Shakespeare; and nothing better than good Shakespeare.
Bardolatry? Perhaps. But, other than the Supreme Being, who else is there? Shakespeare helps us remember who we are; because we so often forget. He asks the hardest questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What happens after we die?
As actors and as audiences, we are so often disappointed in Shakespeare. But perhaps it is we who are more fallible, not him. Only the impossibly arrogant think he is “beneath” him. Only the helplessly unconfident think him impossibly “above” them.
Often, we turn away because he exhausts us. He calls us to an uncomfortable effort, when what we’re pulled to do is stay home and “veg-out” in front of the tube.
What Shakespeare invites us to do is find out who we are today; just as he called on his contemporaries to do. He echoes the ancients when they urged us to the highest calling: To know ourselves. Which includes exercising our power to imagine each other’s lives; to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
By the way, this space is intended more for practitioners than scholars; more for actors than directors; more for audiences than readers. But, like the theatre itself, it’s for everyone.
Like some of Shakespeare’s, this writing may not be perfect; because we are fallible. We only have the obligation to try. And to ask, in the final sentence, “What do you think?”