The National Shakespeare Company, America’s oldest professional touring company, will bring a live performance of the classic comedy “As You Like It” to William Woods University Oct. 29.
The performance is part of the President’s Concert & Lecture Series at William Woods and is free and open to the public. The play will be performed at 7:30 p.m. in Cutlip Auditorium of McNutt Campus Center. Co-sponsored by Jesters, the WWU student drama organization, the production is part of the university’s month-long Salute to the Arts.
For many people the thought of a weekend in the country evokes carefree images of absolute bliss, without a worry in sight. For the assorted characters in “As You Like It,” journeying to the Forest of Arden is nothing short of a life-altering experience.
Director Kay Long sees the escape to Arden as crucial for the characters to find out important truths about themselves and their eventual partners.
“Changing your situation very quickly, allows you to see yourself differently,” comments Long. “Having to abandon your everyday habits is very scary and it tests you in many unexpected ways. Often this new experience forces you to use resources you never knew you had, which says a great deal about who you really are,” she continues.
According to Long, Shakespeare’s determination to unearth the characters’ inner strengths and vulnerabilities contributes to the very modern nature of the play. Duke Senior, is banished from the court by his brother, Duke Frederick. Forced into exile, Duke Senior, along with his supporters, make their way to the Forest of Arden.
When his daughter, Rosalind, is also compelled to leave the court, she goes in search of her father, along with her cousin, Celia, and for protection, Touchstone, a clown. Fearing for their safety in the forest, Rosalind dresses as a man and assumes the name, Ganymede. Still in disguise as Ganymede, Rosalind encounters Orlando, who has escaped to the forest to avoid the wrath of his brother, Oliver. The developing relationship between Rosalind, aka Ganymede, and Orlando forms the heart of the play, which being a comedy, ultimately ends in not one, but four marriages.
This is not the first time Long has worked with The National Shakespeare Company, now in its 39th year of touring throughout the country. Last year she directed NSC’s production of “Romeo and Juliet,” which was performed for student audiences throughout New York City.
This season, “As You Like It” is joined by “The Tempest”on tour. Eight actors perform multiple roles in both productions, as they cross the country, offering more than 100 performances between September 2001 and May 2002. The actors, trained as teaching artists, also conduct workshops in many of the communities they visit.
Based in New York City, The National Shakespeare Company is still guided by the same mission that inspired the founders of the company, producer/director Philip Meister and actress Eliane Sulka. Their vision was to create a troupe of classically trained actors, which would bring live classical theatre to diverse audiences, many of which do not have regular access to live performances.
Acting is only one of the functions the cast members perform. Along with the company manager, they load in, focus the lights prior to a performance, and then strike the set and pack up following the show. The set must be easily portable and able to fit into theatres of different type and dimensions.
Long sees the challenges of creating a touring production as a benefit, not hindrance, which allows her to focus on clearly telling the story and requires her to create two very different worlds — the court and the forest– without resorting to extravagance.
“If the audience is engaged and makes the same journey as the actors, then Shakespeare’s words become as meaningful as they were 400 years ago,” she concludes.