The Georgia Shakespeare Company is taking to the stage for a new season.
At a rehearsal at Oglethorpe University’s Conant Performing Arts Center, the company prepared to open with As You Like It. There’s a lot of singing and dancing in the Forest of Arden. There are also a lot of complications -- including the challenge of bringing the Bard’s words to a new, Atlanta audience.
Rosalind, the romantic female lead in As You Like It , discovers that her path to true love includes cross-dressing. Her part is played by Actor Courtney Patterson, who jokingly says it’s a big role.
“There’s just so much yellow, because I highlight all my lines in yellow and when I turn the page, there’s just so much yellow. It’s a lot,” said Patterson. “Now, we have cut some of the play just because it’s a little bit long. But, I don’t think we cut enough of my lines, personally.”
As You Like It has always been considered one of Shakespeare’s funniest comedies. The folks at Georgia Shakespeare hope all the humorous hook-ups and near misses will bring big crowds to their production.
“When it’s right and it’s good and it’s immediate, there is nothing better,” says Travis Smith, who plays the love-besotted Orlando. Orlando takes advice from Ganymede, who is really the disguised Rosalind, who is warding off another love-struck woman’s advances while trying to marry Orlando.
Yeah, it’s complicated.
Smith sees it this way: “There’s nothing that feels more exhilarating and crushes you as much as that first love. So, that’s an experience all of us have. And I think that’s what all of us relate to.”
He says relatability makes Shakespeare a feast for the senses.
“We’ve become such a fast food nation and theater is not. Theater is a stroll through the gardens where you have to really pay attention and take in everything.”
But Patterson says the complexity of Shakespeare lies in the language, not the actual plot.
“The stories aren’t that complex in Shakespeare. It’s the language that’s beautiful, so we try to step out of the way of the language and let the language perform for itself.”
Most longtime patrons say that Atlanta’s theater community is producing more quality work than ever before. And yet, drawing audiences to local productions continues to be a major challenge.
“What Atlanta still is missing is that one voice that is outside of the arts community,” Georgia Shakespeare co-founder Richard Garner told GPB’s On The Story. “That is, a major corporate leader, a major political leader who says, ‘Arts are critical here and they will make this community a better place for all of us.’”
And if it’s hard enough attracting audiences to any Atlanta theater, what special magic do you work to turn them out for Shakespeare? Garner, who also directs As You Like It says one way is to look beyond the romantic comedy storyline and seek out what Shakespeare is really saying about us. In the case of “As You Like It”, it’s about surviving personal upheaval. “One of my favorite speeches in the whole play is when the duke, Senior, is in the court. And he’s there with – he says, ‘My brothers and co-mates in exile’ and he talks about how the cold teaches us lessons,” said Garner. “ And in our production, he is actually exposing himself to the cold. And he says, ‘Great are the uses of adversity.’” Patterson says, “The reason it is timeless is that it’s about the human condition. It is, you know, it’s about feelings and situations that we’re always experiencing.” Because, of course, “all the world’s a stage.” Georgia Shakespeare’s As You Like It plays in Piedmont Park June 4 – 8, then moves to the Conant Center at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta from June 14-29. For complete season information, go to: http://www.gashakespeare.org/2014_season