Arts and Entertainment

Shakespeare festival begins new season

Actors Olena Hodges (Beatrice) and David Mayer (Benedict) practice a scene during rehearsal for “Much Ado About Nothing. “  - Celeste Erickson / The Record
Actors Olena Hodges (Beatrice) and David Mayer (Benedict) practice a scene during rehearsal for “Much Ado About Nothing. “
— image credit: Celeste Erickson / The Record

The costumes are fitted, the set is in place and the tent raised.

Island Shakespeare Festival is gearing up for its performance of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Director Rose Woods said she chose the play because it was her grandmother’s favorite, and also because she wants to explore the variations of love with the play.

“I think that it is an incredible exploration of love and all its forms.”

Woods sets the scene in a European circus around the 1890s. She said she leans on the idea of an old European circus family in Italy under their new tent.

This particular year, it’s in a tent, and that changes a game,” Woods said. “We had been performing in an amphitheater and by doing it in a tent it we have more theatrical moments, from visuals to blocking, etc.”

The crew did not get the tent until recently. For most of the rehearsals, during the previous three weeks, the 15-member cast practiced in the hot summer temperatures at Langley Middle School field.

Woods said she is not intimidated by the tent.

It’s nice to have shelter in case it rains, and to not worry about the temperature because the back end will be open for air to flow, she said.

Performances will offer seating inside and outside the tent for an audience of about 300.

This is the company’s fourth year together. A third of the company comes from off island.

“We have the most amazing cast and company,” Woods said, adding it’s exciting when talent comes from far away.

The cast of “Much Ado About Nothing” features Olena Hodges as Beatrice and David Mayer as Benedict. The cast also includes Miles Harrison, Ahna Dunn-Wilder, Gabe Harshman, Matt Bell, Morgan Bondelid, Laurel Livezey, Damien Cortez, Cameron Gray, Valerie Huntington, Kent Junge, Melanie Lowey, Andrew Pearce and Cedar Stephens.

The play follows the Circo di Messina troupe as they welcome the performers from Circo di Aragon. Members of both troupes fall in love. Benedick with Beatrice — a witty pair whose love is not easily admitted by either — and Claudio with Hero, a young couple around whom the plot centers.

This is the first lead role in a Shakespeare play for Mayer. He said the leading role is an interesting challenge and requires a certain grounding. Mayer played humorous roles before, but said there is an interesting mix he has to build as the leading man.

Mayer began learning his role by relying heavily on the text and his own interpretation of the work instead of watching other performances.

“I enjoy that with Shakespeare, it’s like reading a mystery novel. You build the vision in your head what the scene is saying and get a lot of ‘a ha’ moments, each a little harder to unlock,” Mayer said.

Mayer said one of the challenges is making the work conversational for audiences and to be as clear and specific as possible.

Mayer has been with Island Shakespeare Festival for three seasons and said Woods directs as if giving a “firm but warm hug.”

He enjoys being in the hands of a director and group that he trusts. He said that allows for him to play and explore with his role in the rehearsal process.

“I hope the audience laughs, I think this play brings laughter and tears,” Woods said. “It’s a full range of family love, friendship and romantic love. I hope people leave with a sense of love and certainly fun.”

Woods said the cast has been ready to perform even before the tent arrived, but things always come together in the final week.

“I trust this company to deliver magic,” she said. “They have always done so.”


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