Actors’ Renaissance Season opens at American Shakespeare Center
To modern audiences, Shakespeare’s staging and rehearsal conditions might sound like antiquated practices, but they’re really focused on collaborative, experimental, and fast-paced theatre-making. The actors must work together to embrace the often chaotic few days they have to mount productions — and the results are fresh, creative, and straight out of the minds of our actors.
“The ASC Ren Season is our annual experiment into what we think Elizabethan and Jacobean rehearsal conditions might have been like, and this year we’re adding a few new twists,” says ASC Artistic Director and Co-Founder Jim Warren. “In addition to re-creating Shakespeare’s staging conditions (leaving the lights on the audience and including them in the world of the play) our Ren Season also includes re-creating some of Shakespeare’s rehearsal conditions of limited group rehearsals and actors often working with just their own lines and cues rather than full scripts. This year we’re also adding a brand new play and a rarely-performed play with an actor/manager/director at the helm. We hope these new wrinkles to our Ren Season will help us continue to reconnect with past practices as we rediscover more ways to go back to the future with new works and recover the joys and accessibility of Shakespeare’s language and staging conditions.”
The Actors’ Renaissance Season begins performances on January 13 with The Merchant of Venice, featuring a full troupe of American Shakespeare Center veterans. Against the backdrop of social intolerance suddenly buffeted by inevitable change, Shakespeare weaves interconnected tales of friendship, love, and family while bringing to life one of his strongest and most resourceful heroines. Mingling dreamy romance with senseless and timeless cultural conflicts, The Merchant of Venice reveals that mercy and love can come from unexpected places.
Coriolanus joins The Merchant of Venice in rotating repertory on January 19. Loaded with startling contemporary commentary on politics, politicians, and “the people” politicians represent, Coriolanus gives us a stark look at the triumphs and failures of a tragic hero. With his insightful analysis on the political journey of Rome’s most famous military man, Shakespeare highlights the pitfalls of pride and and the danger of arrogance in one of his final and most complex tragedies.
The School for Scandal throws uproarious comedy into the mix on February 2. Rumors abound in this searing comedy of manners, where no one can avoid the stinging bite of gossip — even though the truth is sometimes juicier. A rich guardian tests his wards to choose the worthier heir, but there’s more to them than meets the eye. Throw in a few scandal-mongers, a wandering wife, and a sneaky hireling name Snake, and A School for Scandal will have you rolling in your seat.
February 23 brings the world premiere performance of the new play Shakespeare’s Sister by Emma Whipday. Judith Shakespeare has one ambition: to be a playwright. When her debt-ridden father forces her into an engagement, she runs away with the help of dashing actor Ned Alleyn, hoping to join her brother in London. But when Judith arrives in the plague-stricken capital, she finds her brother gone, Ned engaged to another, and her play refused. Judith confronts a society where women’s freedoms are curtailed; and a government tackling religious extremism in a climate of fear. Judith must choose between succumbing to social pressures, and following her dream, no matter what the cost in this moving and funny play..
Finally the ASC rediscovers a play which has never seen a professional production in America, The Fair Maid of the Exchange. Anthony, Ferdinand, and Frank must battle it out to win her love, and they’re not above underhanded tricks and disguises to get her attention. This wickedly witty city comedy pits brother against brother, and shows even in sibling rivalries, somebody has to come out on top. ASC veteran actor René Thornton, Jr. steps into the director/manager chair like Peter Quince in Midsummer to lead the troupe in reviving this show for (we think) the first time in over 400 years. Performances of Fair Maid begin March 22.
The Actors’ Renaissance Season features American Shakespeare Center veterans Lauren Ballard, Grant Davis, Allison Glenzer, John Harrell, Ginna Hoben, Josh Innerst, Chris Johnston, David Anthony Lewis, Benjamin Reed, Tim Sailer, René Thornton Jr., and Jessika Williams.
An opening night party will be held on January 14 at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel after the opening of The Merchant of Venice during which the 2017/18 Season will be announced. Premium level tickets start at $42 and can be purchased online at www.AmericanShakespeareCenter.