Theater troupe plans more authentic experience at Stan Hywet
WEST AKRON — Terry Burgler said his Ohio Shakespeare Festival (OSF) has always been vigilant in making its performances of the Bard’s work as authentic as possible. Modern technology has been used as little as possible so the experience more closely resembles what Elizabethan-era audiences would have had.
Still, Burgler knew the troupe, which has performed two shows a summer since 2002, could do more to bring what the academic community calls original practice methods to the local stage.
“I cheated,” said Burgler, OSF artistic director. “I thought, since we don’t have a true Shakespeare space, we’ll use the basic model of an open playing area that wraps around on three sides and has an upper playing area used as a balcony. The audiences enjoyed the plays, and we did a pretty good job, but in the back of my head it was the one area that we weren’t committed to doing what Shakespeare did.”
That’s changing this season as the OSF begins to construct a new stage that resembles the type that would have been used when William Shakespeare originally produced his plays.
This year’s season at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens starts tonight, July 5, with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which runs through July 22, followed by “The Merchant of Venice,” which runs Aug. 2-19.
The base of the stage will be assembled for “Midsummer,” said Artistic Director Nancy Cates, and will overlook the lagoon, a fitting backdrop for that play. The rest of the stage will be constructed in the time between the two shows.
Previously, the OSF constructed two different stages for its shows each summer, Burgler said.
“We actually would close a show on Saturday and open the next Friday, so we had to get one down and the other up, and the actors only had a little bit of time on the actual set,” he said. “And it was costing us a lot of money.”
For the new stage design, the OSF received funding from the Corbin, Knight and Akron Community foundations.
When completed, the new stage will have an upcenter door that is larger to allow bigger groups and bigger scenic properties through, as well as doors on either side for extra flow for entrances and exits, Burgler said. There also will be an upper playing area and backstage space that will provide more room for actors as they wait to go on stage.
Burgler added that Stan Hywet workers also removed a mound of rock that was left at the site from its old days as a quarry. The change allows OSF to move the stage out a little farther.
He’s also thrilled the additional room will provide a place for the troupe to store tools and supplies.
The stage will be permanent in the sense that it will be used season after season, but it will be disassembled and stored at the end of each season to protect it from weather, Burgler said.
Presenting Shakespeare outdoors is not without its challenges, Cates said.
She recalled a few instances in which weather conditions affected whether the show could go on.
“The final performance of ‘The Tempest’ there was an actual tempest — it flooded Merriman Valley and closed all the roads,” she said. “We couldn’t even get there.”
The troupe has a plan in case of rain, which includes sometimes delaying the start or adding in an additional intermission, if necessary, she added.
“We do not play around with lightning, though,” Burgler added. “In that case, we suspend the show.”
Cates said audiences are usually willing to put up with quite a bit, much to her surprise.
“On the closing night of ‘Love’s Labours Lost,’ it was raining, but not so heavy that it could be an issue for the actors’ safety,” she said. “We were well into Act 2, and it was coming down a bit heavier and heavier. It was starting to get wet on stage, and the actors were getting soaked. At one point, [actor] Andrew [Cruse] just said, ‘Do you want us to keep going?’ and there was a roar of approval. We were so proud of ourselves for what we accomplished.”
OSF’s performances at Stan Hywet, 714 N. Portage Path, run Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m. Grounds open at 6 p.m. for picnicking, with concessions available. Greenshow begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 for reserved seats or $25 for open seats, and $15 for students. Additional discounts are available for OSF and Stan Hywet members. For tickets, go to www.ohioshakespeare.com or call 330-673-8761.
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