Planting the Seeds of “ArkansAs You Like It”

What an incredible honor it is to be asked to return to Conway in 2011.

I had not even been home a full month from last summer’s amazing Arkansas Shakespeare experience (Shakespearience?) when my phone rang, Matt Chiorini on the other end. And here’s a little inside baseball, a look into how things like contracts and seasons get put together. He asked me if I was interested in returning for a second summer as a director, composer and associate artist, and then asked for my thoughts on what kind of play I might like to direct.

Now let me tell you that this doesn’t happen a lot, a hired director being asked to give input on potential scripts. It’s quite flattering, an honor really, and a huge responsibility. I’ve been on the staff of a Shakespeare company before, so I’ve been part of the process of putting seasons together. I knew that whatever decision we made, it would have to be in the context of the rest of the summer, and it would have to be the best possible choice for the company first.

That said, I wasn’t about to ignore the opportunity to have a say in the matter. If Matt’s going to ask what I want to do, I’m going to tell him. My mind flashed back to my recent directing history:

  • The Comedy of Errors, Summer 2010. Bigger faster funnier!
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Summer 2009. Bigger faster funnier with fairies! Award-winning five-actor ensemble cast!
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Spring 2009. Indoor first draft of bigger faster funnier with fairies!
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, December 2008. Staged reading that planted the seeds for the above bigger faster funniers.
  • As You Like It, Summer 2008. Big cast re-mount of hit Spring production; 15 actors’ worth of bigger faster funnier!
  • As You Like It, Spring 2008. Five-actor production, boys playing girls and girls playing boys and a girl playing a boy playing a girl. Award-nominated bigger faster funnier!
  • Doctor Faustus, Spring 2007.

Yes, I had to go all the way back to 2007 to find the last time I had directed a serious play. And in all fairness, it was a two-actor reduction of Faustus featuring (you guessed it) a surprising amount of bigger faster funnier. In fact, it genuinely may have been the funniest production of Doctor Faustus ever staged, and I realize that isn’t saying much. In fact, I have to go all the way back to 2006, when I helmed a five-actor Othello for Richmond Shakespeare, my first directing gig for that company, to find a production I’ve put together with an entirely serious intended effect.

So my answer to Matt was, “Well, Matt, I’m kind of comedied out right now. I’m feeling pretty pigeonholed as an artist, and I want to make sure my resume isn’t getting too one-dimensional. What does the 2011 season look like so far? Do you have any plays in mind?”

Matt said, “Well, we keep almost doing As You Like It. It seems like that play is the runner-up for the comedy slot every year. It’s a lovely play for the Natural State, with all the action in the Forest of Arden. And I think you’d be a really good fit with that script, especially coming off of Comedy.

I thought for a second. “You know what, Matt? I can do some drama in Richmond between now and then. Let’s do it. Let’s do As You Like It.

Here’s why it was so easy for me say yes to this script: I think As You Like It is to Shakespeare’s comedy what Hamlet is to tragedy. Not only do I think it’s his best comedy, I think it’s his best comedy by a mile. It’s a huge cast of memorable characters, a delight for audiences to enjoy and a feast for actors to sink their teeth into. It’s two pairs of brothers, their relationships broken by jealousy. It’s two women, closer than sisters, bound together in deception in a strange land. It’s two awkward country boys who can’t help but love two awkward country girls even in the face of all rejection. It’s dueling clowns, one mean-spirited and one melancholy. It’s love and romance and country-mouse-versus-city-mouse and music and family and redemption. It’s “All the world’s a stage.” And it’s a girl disguised as a boy pretending to be a girl who actually happens to be herself.

This is my favorite comedy written by anybody, ever, featuring my favorite cast of characters in all of world theatre.

In the meantime, I’m here in my home city of Richmond, Virginia, beginning to work on This Beautiful City with the Richmond Triangle Players, my first acting gig since 2008′s Amadeus. I’m going to be directing a staged reading of Eliza Anderson’s The Water Principle at a theatre to be announced, and Sycamore Rouge in Petersburg is looking to produce my play Awake in Pennsylvania in March. And I’m beginning to put together a program for artists with mental health issues in conjunction with the Firehouse Theatre Project‘s production of Something Intangible. I figure that’s more than enough drama to satisfy my limited need for seriousness between now and May. If you are so inclined, you can keep up with my local doings, as well as some truly awful NFL picks, on my own blog, Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express.

I can’t wait to be able to delight you, fair readers, with word of which wonderful actors will be playing these amazing roles. And as the months go by I’m going to continue to write about the preparation, the foundational ideas, and the process of this show, on which I’ve already begun working. I’ve already begun to talk music with Matt and costumes with Shauna Meador, who has instantly become one of my favorite artists to collaborate with ever. I know this much already: it can’t help but look and sound gorgeous.

The 2011 Arkansas Shakespearience is already beginning!

 
 
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