ASC begins production of Winter’s Tale
One of Shakespeare’s later plays, The Winter’s Tale straddles the line of Shakespearean genre. Directed by ASC Artistic Director Jim Warren, The Winter’s Tale takes the audience through a tragic, dark turn of events in the first act including jealously, imprisonment, death and one dangerous bear. After the interlude, the audience is led quickly into the wonderful world of Bohemia, complete with foolery, dancing, singing and, most of all, love. The finale of this roller-coaster ride from tragedy to comedy is full of beauty and redemption, and will leave the audience believing in miracles.
ASC Co-founder and Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen describes The Winter’s Tale by saying “It starts off like Othello on steroids, and then, halfway through…everything is different…you have songs and dances…it’s virtually a musical once the second half starts.” The ASC sets many songs in contemporary style, and the result is emblematic of the company’s commitment to Shakespeare’s text and to the mission of connecting that text to modern audiences. Stephanie Holladay Earl (who plays Hermione, Mopsa, and is ASC on Tour’s dance captain) divulges that “In the text it says… ‘a dance of shepherds and shepherdesses’ at this sheep shearing party…Jake [Mahler] and [Director Jim Warren] settled on ‘Time of My Life’ from Dirty Dancing and so [the scene]…builds to the entire company doing the dance from Dirty Dancing.”
One of the great Dame Judi Dench’s ten rules for playing Shakespeare is this: “You don’t have to carry the message; the play does it for you.” Before rehearsals for The Winter’s Tale began, Director Jim Warren gave his actors some advice that echoes Dench’s words. He said, “take…the audience from moment to moment so that those watching can decide what the arc is…What’s surprising, shocking, and delightful about the ride of [The Winter’s Tale] is that tone, dynamic, and genre often slip and slide in ways that are hard to predict. We will treat our audiences to a feast that delivers the entrée, salad, dessert, and appetizer in unique but delicious ways.”
Critics and bloggers have all enjoyed the surprising trip of The Winter’s Tale and have been effusive in their praise. Eric Minton of Shakespeareances.com explains that “[Director Jim[ Warren has grasped all the minutest tricks Shakespeare used to wring out every ounce of emotional response a thinking human can emote during two hours’ traffic on the stage; in this Winter’s Tale you literally cry, then laugh, then cry, then laugh, then finally cry and laugh together” and Charles Culbertson of The Staunton News Leader reveals that “Shakespeare doesn’t skimp on the number of twists and turns that …creating a complex, emotional tempest for the audience to weather. The tragedy is dark and the comedy is bright.” But, he encourages audiences to “just enjoy the amalgam for what it is — entertaining theater.”
The American Shakespeare Center in Staunton recovers the joys and accessibility of Shakespeare’s theatre, language, and humanity by exploring the English Renaissance stage and its practices through performance and education. The ASC’s Blackfriars Playhouse, the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre, is open year-round for productions of classic plays, which have been hailed by The Washington Post as “shamelessly entertaining” and by The Boston Globe as “phenomenal…bursting with energy.”
Founded in 1988 as Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, the organization became the American Shakespeare Center in 2005 and can be found online at www.americanshakespearecenter.com.