Thoughts from “As You Like It” Director Andrew Hamm

As You Like It opens next Thursday, inaugurating the green at The Village at Hendrix

Andrew Hamm

as a theatre space and launching the 2011 Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre season. Yesterday was a day off, concluding our second week of rehearsal, and it feels like the whole show teeters on a balance point. Behind us lie two weeks of learning blocking, music, combat and dance choreography. In front stand five days for us to play, refine, specify, sharpen, clean up, and shave some time off the show, followed by next week’s tech rehearsals and finally opening night. Throughout the process, the amazing artists I’ve worked with continue to remind me why directing theatre is my deepest and most joyful artistic passion. Every single day leaves me exhausted and thrilled in equal measure.

Theatre is by nature the most collaborative of all art forms.  A playwright gives words to speak and life events to perform. A director takes that text and casts it in the context of a vision of performance and meaning. Designers create environment and mood, locating the show in a specific place and time. Actors interpret the words, guided by the director’s idea and the designers’ context, into action. Everybody throws an ingredient or two into the resulting artistic gumbo, and then the audience shows up with a spoon and the spice of their own perspective, the last addition and the one that makes the whole thing, officially, into theatre.

Theatre is collaboration above all else, and the company members of As You Like It have all added their own uniqueness to the show. In several cases, an actor’s or designer’s work has made me completely junk my own ideas about the play in favor of theirs. Touchstone (Adam Mincks) and Audrey (Rachael Small), for example, are so cute together that I couldn’t bear to let Shakespeare’s intimation of an unhappy ending for them stand unchallenged; in this production, they may work out after all.

Over and over, the actors teach me anew what the play is about. In this, my fourth time directing As You Like It, I feel like I’m just beginning to really understand what the play is about. Different directors and different companies will have different ideas, but for me, this summer’s production is about truly being yourself. Every character who tries to create an identity for themselves end up in trouble at best, miserable at least. Duke Frederick (Rob Dillon) puts on the manner of a conquering lord, and loses his family. Orlando (David Huynh) puts on the trappings of a wrestler and almost gets himself killed. Rosalind (Amy Fritsche) puts on a man’s clothing and wreaks havoc in the Forest of Arden. Oliver’s (Derrick Parker) pretensions at being in charge, Phebe’s (Caroline Mincks) strained shrewishness, Touchstone’s city snobbery; it just goes on and on. And then there’s the melancholy Jaques (Dan Matisa), one of Shakespeare’s most enigmatic characters, who refuses to be happy in the face of four weddings and the very god of marriage herself. It is only when these characters allow themselves to simply be who they are, in the presence of someone who accepts them as such, that they are happy.

And such wonderful happiness it is! As You Like It is full of music, romance, silliness, excitement and reconciliation; the play is full to bursting with the simple joy of simply living. I can’t wait for you to see what the amazing artists of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre have cooked up for you.

Every one of the four shows at Hendrix Village is pay-what-you can, so bring the whole family. Bring the whole block. Come early to stake out a good seat; live music starts at 7:00 each night.