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Managing the Wondrous

By Monika Cruson, Stage Manager Extraordinaire

If there was any one word I would use to describe Sweet Tea Shakespeare it would be joy, pure unadulterated joy; seven year old on Christmas morning joy. It is with that in mind that I say stage managing with Sweet Tea Shakespeare over the past 6 months has been an overwhelmingly delightful adventure, which I’m sure I won’t always have the privilege of saying.

When I started stage managing for Sweet Tea just a short 6 months ago I wasn’t sure of exactly what to expect, my high school theatre teacher (Medina Demeter, Trinculo & Antonio in The Tempest) told me about the SM opening and I leapt at the chance to gain some much needed experience. I was nervous and probably a little awkward but I was met with immense warmth and grace, which I am ever grateful for.

There is a little something called LOVE floating around Sweet Tea and it’s infectious. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I have become a better version of myself because of the people in Sweet Tea and the proximity with which we all work and live together; we share our space, emotions, books, jokes, and most importantly food. Despite the arduous rehearsals, there is nowhere I would rather be than in the company of my Sweet Tea family. Simply put, they are the light of my life. If I could go back in time the only thing I would change is that I would meet this unbelievable family that I have gained earlier.

This may seem like a goodbye blog post and in a way it is, in August I’ll be leaving for The University of North Carolina School of the Arts to further pursue my stage management career but I know that every time I come back home I will encounter more magic, love, and joy than I did when I left; a present I will always be willing to tear open.

I’ve said, or typed rather, this bittersweet tearjerker to tell you that if you’re looking for an open sanctuary to have fun and create otherworldly theatre Sweet Tea Shakespeare is the community for you, even if you’re not an actor. We’re always looking for anyone willing to participate in our magic.

All About the People

By Jennifer Czechowski, Sebastian in The Tempest

There are so many reasons that being a part of The Tempest is an incredible experience. The best thing about it, without a doubt, is the people with whom I have the privilege of working: castmates who are kind, supportive, hilarious, and, yes, great dancers in addition to being prodigiously talented; musicians who astound me with not only their talent and inventiveness but also their patience and grace; a stage manager who can build Easter Island heads out of cardboard and sheer will; a director with an incredible vision, who gives actors freedom to build and play and make choices while offering spot-on suggestions like “more Muppety” and “walk like a wistful sailor.” It is a privilege and a joy to spend so many rehearsal hours with people who are committed to bringing something beautiful and wonderful to the stage.

Rehearsals are hard work, but so much fun. We punctuate the intellectual workout of Shakespeare with taco breaks, songs that run the gamut from car dealership jingles to ‘90s R&B, bad puns, and impromptu dance-offs (the more inappropriate, the better). I look forward to rehearsal not only for the work, which I love, but for the sheer enjoyment of being with these people. I am grateful to have this opportunity not only to be a part of such a lovely, funny, hopeful play, but to be able to do it with this specific collection of people. I learn something fromthem at every rehearsal—even if it’s just how good they are at doing the Roger Rabbit.

A Shakespearean Soundtrack

By Jacob French, Company Member and Master of Note

When my experience with Sweet Tea Shakespeare (STS) began, it was because of the music. My wife, you see, had been cast in one of the shows and shared with me that STS had live music prior to their performances.
“You should really come along and play!” she pleaded with me. “You’re always complaining that you don’t have anyone to play with.”
I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a complainer, so my wife’s comments were probably truer than I’d like to believe.
“What could it hurt?” I told myself. “I can at least strum along while standing nondescriptly in the background.”
Fast forward one year and now I’m the Master of Note (the company music director and “leader” – if there is such a thing – of our house band, The Suspenders).
Sweet Tea’s relationship between Shakespeare and music has been a steadily growing one. The music that once served mostly as pre- and mid-show entertainment has grown into an integral part of the Sweet Tea experience. No longer is the music confined to preshow; it now weaves its way in and out of the play itself – like a soundtrack to the script.
The process for The Tempest has been very similar to the process we use for all our shows. Company members, the artistic director, and I all add songs to a list that we feel match the feeling of the play. The artistic director and I then whittle this list down a set of songs that not only match the feeling of the play, but will also move the audience. Does this mean move the audience physically, like in a participatory dance? Perhaps. The real movement we want is emotional.
Once the final set of songs is chosen, I get to play composer and create the arrangements we use. While this process is somewhat time-consuming, it’s the part of the job that I truly enjoy. One of the many things I take pride in at STS is that we don’t cover songs exactly as they are performed by the original artist; we perform our version of the songs. This means you could get an Avett Brothers song which stays pretty much in the same style as the original, or you could hear a folk-rock version of Katy Perry or Ke$ha. The actual arrangement I create depends largely on who is involved in the Suspenders for each show. For some shows it’s only me on guitar with a singer. For The Tempest, the Suspenders are comprised of two guitars, a mandolin, a cello, a percussionist, and the vocalists.
Once arrangements are finalized, I assign singers to each of the songs and we begin rehearsals. This is where I could claim a lot of undue credit if I was that kind of person. The truth is, at this point my job is largely done. I could say that I lead the group through strenuous music rehearsals, nitpicking every little thing they do, guiding them to musical nirvana. In actuality, once rehearsals start, the process is largely collaborative. Yes, there is some coaching or correcting from me, but 95% of what you’ll hear at a STS show is the result of a great GROUP of people working TOGETHER to move people.
Whether you’ve been complaining about not having anyone to play with or you just want a good performance with great music, join us for a show or join us in its creation.
Perhaps you’ll pull up a lawn chair and drink a glass of tea while you take it all in.
Or maybe you’ll just stand nondescriptly in the back and strum along.
That’s what I did.

Playing the Strange

By Nathan Pearce, Company Member and Master of Dispatch

Forrest Gump would probably describe Sweet Tea Shakespeare the same way he described life: “You never know what you gonna get!”

I have been fortunate enough to be a part of several Sweet Tea Shakespeare productions in which I’ve become a variety of different characters, ranging from a hopelessly romantic Spaniard in Love’s Labours Lost to a king with an extreme jealousy problem in A Winter’s Tale. Despite this varied experience, nothing could prepare me for the role I will be playing in The Tempest (the role of Iris, goddess of the rainbow).

Not only do I have the song “Dude Looks Like a Lady” in my head non-stop, but I have had to totally forget what it “means to be a man” for this role. From posture to walking around, everything has needed to change.

This version of The Tempest completely flips the gender script, so to speak. Our amazing actresses are playing all the traditional male role and all of the female roles (except for the role of Miranda, being played beautifully by the amazing Nicole Callaghan) are being played by guys who are the farthest from feminine and we have the facial hair to prove it.

Sweet Tea Shakespeare is all about being wondrous and strange. By throwing “tradition” to the wind in this version of The Tempest, it is definitely achieving that goal, in the best way possible.

Something Magical

By Brandon S. Bryan, Company Member and Master of Stage

Everyone loves magic. There remains- even in today’s culture of technological miracles- an inner yearning to witness magic in action. It’s an unexplainable desire to know that there is something special about our world.

Personally I believe that there is magic in the world we live in, and it is actually far more commonplace than many recognize. I get to see it every day here at Sweet Tea Shakespeare, specifically during rehearsals for The Tempest. I’m not just speaking about the illusions and conjurer’s tricks that are inherent to the play, although there’s plenty of that. There is something definitely magical about the honesty of Shakespeare’s words spoken on stage, a kind of empathy that spans literal centuries, brought to life here and now by a modern company of players.

For over a year now I have played with STS, and right from the start I’ve been of the opinion that we don’t sell plays, we sell magic. Between the outdoor, sunset-setting, the brilliance and honesty of the actors, and the close proximity we give our audience, it’s nigh impossible to not be swept up in the almost supernatural storytelling and find yourself transported to another world.

And now we find ourselves performing a show that is unapologetically magical. If you’ve never been to a STS production, this is the one to see. If you are familiar with our work, expect everything to be kicked up a notch. The Tempest is guaranteed to be a fantastic, and yes, a magical show.

The World and Its Trappings

By Jessica Osnoe, Assistant Artistic Director and Master of Education

One of my favorite things about Sweet Tea Shakespeare is that the artists involved in a production have a share in creating both the world you see on stage and the trappings (costumes, props, set pieces) which help make it real. The moments during rehearsal or dedicated workdays when such things happen have become some of my favorite times. It’s during these days, like one last week when I sat in a sewing circle attaching suspenders buttons to costume pants, that I got to talk with cast mates and laugh as we figured out what we were doing, often by trial and error.

This process is both endearing and gracious; it provides an opportunity to grow as we solve problems together and allows people to learn how to make and do things. In such an atmosphere, it’s easy to laugh at our own mistakes and appreciate how we learn with others to translate an idea into reality. For me, there is an implicit trust in such actions that acknowledges my fellows as family; we grow and learn both with and from each other, sharing ideas, help and laughter in turn.


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