By Jessica Schiermeister, Co-director of Pericles
For our SeaWorld rep in June 2018, Sweet Tea Shakespeare is remounting two productions: The Tempest (produced by STS in 2015) and Pericles (produced by Hoosier Shakes in 2016). I and another guest artist, Duana Burby, were both involved in the previous production of Pericles.
Ana and I were brought aboard (pun totally intended) to help remount that production, and it has been an adventure! Since STS’s artistic director Jeremy Fiebig is directing both shows (and directed both original productions), I’ve been working to reconstruct Pericles as best I can. However, we’ve made some changes and some updates that make the show even more thrilling than it was two years ago.
The Tempest has reassembled most of the original cast, but Pericles features an all new cast (Ana is playing Gower this time around; previously she played Lychorida and Boult, and I played Dionyza and the Daughter of Antiochus). Austin Hendricks, another current guest artist and Hoosier Shakes artist, was a student at Community School of the Arts in Marion, Indiana (the home of Hoosier Shakes), when I taught a Shakespeare master class during my time there. We’re thrilled to have a mini Hoosier Shakes reunion down here in Fayetteville!
2016 Pericles featured a cast of 12; 2018 Pericles features a cast of 35. More than doubling the cast size has had its triumphs and challenges, but it’s magical to watch such a large group of people come together to put on a play. Co-directing this show has been a beast, but I’m proud of the work the cast put in. Join us for The Tempest and Pericles!
Tickets available at http://sweetteashakespeare.com/tickets.
By Kate McCosh
I recently returned home to Fayetteville from Western Carolina University, where I just finished my first year in the BFA Acting program. Upon my arrival, I was super excited to see both my family and everyone at Sweet Tea Shakespeare. I started my journey with Sweet Tea Shakespeare as a sophomore in high school, when I was cast in the Honey Series production Sweet Words. A year later, I had the opportunity to work on STS’s Twelfth Night and As You Like It, which ran in repertory, very much like Pericles and The Tempest this summer. I then took a short break from STS while I auditioned for college.Read More
Jen: This has been a rich, varied season for STS. How do you plan a season of theatre? What decisions and considerations must be made?
Jeremy: Season selection is really the heart of what we do. What stories do we want to tell and how?
In our first two seasons, we paired a Shakespeare play with a non-Shakespeare play. In 2012, that non-Shakespeare was Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, which is perhaps my favorite comedy. I think it’s a perfect play and I cannot wait to do it again. In 2013, the non-Shakespeare was Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, which had been on my list since I saw an amazing production by the Royal Shakespeare Company several years ago. At the time, a lot of folks asked why we called ourselves Sweet Tea Shakespeare if we did things that weren’t Shakespeare. The answer, for me, was that of course everything after Shakespeare is somehow Shakespeare. In literary and performance criticism, we talk about this concept of “afterlives”–how plays live on after their first productions. How they break down, how they influence, how they pollinate things that come after them. So in Earnest, we were interested in seeing the lively banter of the language and the love stories and mistaken identities paired with some of those same elements in 2012’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. In The Seagull, three of the central characters in the story are actors, some even referencing Shakespeare. And there is definitely an afterlife of Romeo & Juliet in that play.
At any rate, we now have a practice of doing about 70% Shakespeare and 30% other things. The 30% may be a classic playwright like Wilde or Chekhov or Shaw or Austen. By the end of this season, we’ll have done Chekhov twice and Shaw twice if you count our presentation of Pigeon Creek Shakespeare’s The Dark Lady of the Sonnets. We also do devised work as we have done in our adaptation of Bottom’s Dream and Jessica Osnoe’s adaptation of Paradise Lost. Devised theatre is a different way of developing plays that doesn’t really start with a script necessarily. There may be a story or a structure that emerges, but the production emerges from a lot of experimental and laboratory kinds of work. Though these productions are pretty unconventional for a lot of people, there is a movement of this kind of work, and of site-specific work (as Bottom’s Dream and Paradise Lost both were as well). The thinking is that there is so much good storytelling across theatre, film, television, and books, that theatre has to once again concern itself with the way it tells stories, not just the stories themselves.
Add to that our Lit series, which has emerged in the last year or so as a hybrid of Shakespeare and what we call “Makespeare”–improvisation, games, audience interaction–all at a level and in a way that both is and is not conventional Shakespeare.
Add to that our Honey series focusing on women.
So by the time you put a season together that accounts for all these things, the question becomes: who are we?
We present theatre grounded in a love of Shakespeare and other classics. We’re not afraid to be playful and experimental and weird. We’re really into exploring what music does to performances.
So from there, season selection is a multi-step process where I ask a lot of questions of company members about what their ideas are, where I add some ideas, where sometimes we’ll ask the audience what they think, even taking proposals from them about projects. And then we kinda look at all that and see what emerges. Some of it is about the stories we want to tell. Sometimes it is about the opportunities we want to provide our company members to be in certain roles. Sometimes it’s about balancing what we think will draw an audience. We balance all that stuff and see what emerges.
Once there’s a narrower list, we spend a lot of time talking to venues about where to do the productions, logistics of scheduling, that sort of thing. We look at what other theatres are doing and we look at our own lives–do we want to be rehearsing over Christmas break this year? Do we want to brave the sweltering heat of August? Can we even get a space? And then we look at budgets, whether we think we can cast the show, and tons of other stuff.
But the overriding thing is a word you brought up in the question: we’re looking for variety. What Enobarbus calls “infinite variety.” We think theatre is at its best when we’re surprising the audience and subverting its expectations. So one way to think about how we select seasons is that even if we choose a really famous play by the world’s most famous playwright, we’re engaging that choice in the spirit of showing audiences how they can connect to the piece in ways they never imagined.
By Kaley Morrison, Master of Honey
It was last Spring when Jeremy Fiebig first presented me with the idea of doing Saint Joan as part of the Honey series. I was asked if I’d be interested in possibly playing her.
At the time, and for quite a while, I felt nothing but excitement. I would be playing an icon, a well known symbol, but then it hit me- I didn’t know that much about Joan of Arc as a person, all that I knew of her could be reduced to a few bullet points:
- Heard voices
- Dressed as a soldier and went to battle
- Burned at the stake.
These alone did not make up a real person I could relate to. I had many questions, so I started some research. I watched some documentaries, did some reading, and of course read the text of Shaw’s play. To say there were surprises would be an understatement. I had never known the details about why Joan dressed as a soldier and entered battle. I had assumed that while dressed as a soldier she had assumed a male identity, which turned out not to be the case. She dressed in men’s clothing but never hid the fact that she was a young woman. She went into battle along with men, though historians disagree as to whether or not she directly engaged in combat. Pretty interesting things to happen to a teenage girl in that time. Obviously, she must have been a strong person to have been willing to do all of that–but what did that strength look like? Where did it come from?
One thing historians agree upon about Joan is her unwavering faith and love of God. She believed she could accomplish anything because God was on her side. Her faith in his protection gave her the confidence to be bold, but there were times when she didn’t need to yell or fight. Her faith was so strong that it spoke for itself. She didn’t need to argue: she lived her truth. She was brave enough to show her feelings, be they fear, hurt, or joy in the love of God. Finding these different types of strength within the script has been a real joy and a real challenge. I have tried to approach every rehearsal with an open mind and open heart–trying to find how Joan is feeling in each moment. Sure, she is strong, but is she laughing off her enemies? Is she digging her heels in and not giving up? Or is she trying share her love of God with those around her? How does one lead to another? What causes those changes? So many things to explore! As we move from the rehearsal process to performance, I hope to continue to find her strength, in new places and new ways, and I hope you will join us for Saint Joan.
Historical Background Information—The Winter’s Tale
By Dr. Susan Breitzer
This aspect of dramaturgy has posed a challenged, because technically this play reflects no actual
history, at least on the surface. Probing below the surface however, it is believed to be allegorical to the
second marriage of King Henry VIII of England to Anne Boleyn, or more to the point, its tragic ending. A
little historical background to that is in order.
The English Reformation was different from that of Continental Europe in that 1. It was a largely top-
down affair, legislated by the monarchy 2. It had very much to do with the personal life of King Henry
VIII. Henry VIII’s marital record is very well known to history, and much came down to producing a
male heir. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon had produced only one surviving child—a daughter, Mary.
Then as she aged, Henry genuinely developed the hots for her lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. So Henry
appealed to Rome for an annulment of his first marriage, on the retrospectively decided grounds of
Catherine’s being his brother Arthur’s widow, something that was apparently disallowed without a
dispensation (which they had gotten) The divorce suit, was hardly the most frivolous one to come forth
from or been granted to a monarch nonetheless threatened to undo the whole legitimacy of Papal
Dispensations. Plus at the time, Pope Clement VII was under the political thumb of Catherine’s nephew,
The pope therefore had little option but to dither and stall, allowing the suit to proceed in England for
the next two years, before suddenly announcing that it had to be brought to Rome anew. Henry, after
laying increasing pressure on the Pope, in 1531 compelled an assembly of English clergy to make him
“protector and only supreme head” of the Church in England. Then, in 1533, went ahead and married
the already pregnant Anne, without waiting for an annulment of his previous marriage. Then the child
was turned out to be a girl (the future Queen Elizabeth I), it must have seemed all for nothing—Henry
refused even to attend her christening. From there, things didn’t work out so well for Anne, after
subsequent failed efforts to give the king a son, ending with a miscarriage. Afterward, the king fell
in love with her lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, his eventual third wife. Rather than attempt another
divorce, he had Anne imprisoned and executed on trumped-up charges of adultery with multiple
men—including a close friend of the king’s who refused to confess even to avoid execution. It has been
suggested then that Perdita was an allegorical presentation of Elizabeth, the unwanted daughter who
went on to be one of the greatest (if not greatest) English monarchs in history.
There are also historical circumstances surrounding some of the geographical oddities described in
the play. In The Winter’s Tale there are references to the “seacoast” and “desert” of the Kingdom of
Bohemia. If this Bohemia is the same the comprises most of the modern Czech Republic, this does not
make since, because this region has neither desert nor seacoast. But Bohemia in this context, may
refer to a much lager territory briefly ruled by Ottokar II of Bohemia that included the Adriatic coast,
making it theoretically possible to sail from Sicily to the “seacoast of Bohemia” during the period under
discussion. Other possibilitiesare that Bohemia was an alternate name for the region Apulia in Sicily or
misspelling of Bithynia in Asia Minor. The most likely theory is that Shakespeare, when adapting the
novella Pandosto, in which King Pandosto of Bohemia was the one who suspected his wife of being
unfaithful with his best friend, the King of Sicily, Shakespeare chose to reverse the locations of the
two characters. This was because of King James II’s alliance with Rudolph II, the King of Bohemia (and
the Holy Roman Emperor!)at the time of the play was first performed—also making it possible for the
play to be performed in honor of the marriage of James’s daughter Elizabeth to the crown prince of
Bohemia! There are also other explanations for this and other geographic improbabilities that will be
discussed in a separate literary history of the play.
Beyond Bohemia, there is also the question of why Shakespeare located the Oracle of Delphi on an
island, when Delphi (ancient and modern) is located in the mountains in Central Greece. Rather, this
seeming relocation of the Oracle to the island of Delos (known in Shakespeare’s time as Delphos) is
lifted straight from Pandosto, whose author in turn refers Virgil’s Aeneid.