How to Get Lit in Six Easy Steps

By Marie Lowe, Associate Artistic Director, Master of Audience and Lit, and director of As You Like LIT

As the newest production in our LIT Series, As You Like LIT, approaches, several people have asked how we develop these shows. Here’s a quick how-to guide:

  1. Cast it well
    2. Cast it well
    3. Cast it well
    4. Cast it well
    5. … did I mention it’s all about the cast? What follows below is an overview of the process, but if you’re short on time, remember these three words: CAST. IT. WELL.
    Here at Sweet Tea, our policy is to “light up” a play we’ve performed recently. That way, both the audience and actors will have some reference points. Having done As You Like It last January, it’s relatively fresh in our minds, and hopefully yours, too. Cutting the text down to the essential plot points is a major challenge, as it usually eliminates minor characters and subplots; for example, in HamLIT, we cut out Fortinbras, the crown prince of Norway who assumes the throne at the end of the play, entirely. In Romeo & JuliLIT, we had to lose Romeo’s father. Monologues, even famous ones, are cut down, eliminated entirely, or subjected to shenanigans.
    Once the text has been cut, we find ways to involve the audience in trivia, improvisation, races, and drinking games. We often divide the audience into teams and encourage them to compete against each other. Most of these games will change with each show. In HamLIT, the audience played Charades and a “whodunit” style improv game with the Players. In Romeo & JuliLIT, they played Montagues vs. Capulets Family Feud and raced to revive the Nurse when she collapsed in grief at Juliet’s apparent death. For As You Like LIT, new games will be played in the Forest of Arden. We also have one game that we play in every LIT show, Monologue Mad Libs, in which the audience gets to tart up a famous monologue for one of our actors to deliver.
    Jacob French is the leader, music director, and heart and soul of our band, the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers (WoCo). He does new acoustic arrangements of every song we use for the season. For a LIT show, we like to use songs that are relevant to the characters and relationships in the play, but we also want to use songs that the audience will know so they can sing along. So, for HamLIT we sang “You Give Love a Bad Name,” by Bon Jovi; for Romeo & JuliLIT we used “Poison” by Bell Biv Devoe. The music is such an important part of the LIT experience that we require every cast member to sing and/or play with the band.
    Casting is the single most important part of the LIT process. Not only do these actors have to be able to handle Shakespeare’s language and sing or play with the band, but they have to engage in stage combat and do outrageous choreography, all while playing multiple characters AND making sure that the audience is understanding and enjoying the show. It requires expertise in improvisation, charismatic audience interaction, and a willingness to be fearlessly foolish that many performers lack. The cast makes the show, so cast it well.
    At the start of every rehearsal process, I tell the cast two things:
    – I’m not stupid enough to think my idea is always the best one, so
    – the answer is always “yes” during rehearsal if you have something you’d like to try (just don’t surprise your scene partners).
    Many of our best and most memorable ideas have come out of our rehearsal room, from Gabe asking if The Ghost could do a Star Wars “Hamlet, I am your father” bit complete with light saber, to Jake and Lofton asking “What if Claudius was a hand puppet?” to Tohry whispering, “The drinking game in Romeo & JuliLIT should be Family Feud!”Once you have completed these six easy steps, you too can “light up” one of Shakespeare’s plays—once you also deal with venues and insurance and getting the rights to the music and developing safety rules for the cast and crew and hiring security and passing health inspections and marketing and box office and on and on and on—on second thought, it’s probably easier for you to just buy your tickets for Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s As You Like LIT, opening April 21st.  We’ve already done all of those things, and I promise, we cast it VERY well.

Auld Lang Syne

Justly or not, 2016 has garnered a reputation as a rough year. But for Sweet Tea Shakespeare, it was a year of excitement, challenges, and magic. Here are some of our company members’ favorite memories and moments of the shows of 2016:

“Shut Up and Dance,” the Tinder messages, Mercutio’s Burger King crown (and the fact that Lofton Riser had to go to four different Burger Kings to find it), Catherine Kelly twerking in a nun’s habit and killing that violin solo on “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” (Romeo and JuliLIT)  –Hanna Lafko, Stage Wright

Watching Gertrude’s wine glass get bigger each time she walked on stage. Singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” while rolling a dead body up in a carpet. (HamLIT)  –Katie White, Goods Wright

Marie Lowe leading the ensemble singing “This Love Won’t Break Your Heart” to open Twelfth Night. I was missing friends and family something fierce around that time, and it was super appropriate and made me cry.  –Rachel Brune, Audience Wright

“Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and that one time that I wiped out during the invited rehearsal and had to improvise a recovery.  (Romeo and JuliLIT)  –Gabe Terry, Costume Wright

Michael Thrash pouring water on people was a particular delight. (Twelfth Night)  –Jeremy Fiebig, Artistic Director

Justin Garland singing “Kiss.” (Merchant of Venice)
Jacob French and Tyler Pow wrestling in As You Like It.
Taj Allen eating things In AYLI and Sense and Sensibility.
Greg Griffin and Paul Woolverton bobbing their heads to Ruth Nelson singing “What is Love.” (Twelfth Night)
Seeing the backyard of the Poe House in full bloom for S&S. Lofton’s bluster (and pug) in same.
Thrash in his AYLI turban.
The first time I saw Tohry Petty and Jennifer Czechowski in their Mario and Luigi mustaches. Also, when Tohry didn’t die despite the best efforts of said mustache. (Merchant)
Walking in to the church to fill in for Orlando and getting suddenly, silently hugged by Jeremy. (AYLI)
Seeing Jessica Osnoe play Elinor Dashwood in a play she adapted brilliantly. (S&S)
Joyce Borum’s coffee grounds beard. (As You Like It)
The Mayor of Fuquay-Varina chugging a beer during R&JLit.
The countless times I walked into a space Medina Demeter decorated and went, “Wow.”
Justin Toyer playing Willoughby and getting so frustrated when people didn’t like him. (S&S)
Leisa Greathouse and her husband dressing up for S&S.
The look on Mary Lynn Bain and Tyler Graeper’s faces when I told them to teach everyone their choreography for “I Knew You Were Trouble.” The look on their faces during the bed scene in R&J.
And Jennifer’s husband yelling “That’s my wife!” after she sang “Sweet Child.” (R&J)
Ask me tomorrow and I’ll have another list.  –Marie Lowe, Associate Artistic Director, Master of Audience and Lit

Duty! (HamLIT)  –Nathan Pearce, Master of Dispatch

Anytime we sing “Dear Wormwood.”
The welcoming and charming reception we always get when performing at the library. Especially during LibrariCon.
Uptown Funk during S&S
Marie and Traycie to the rescue during AYLI.
Talking with an audience member at Behold as they were describing the amazing stage for AYLI and watching his face as he realized we were in the same space transformed.
Trying to make it through the MoV trial scene while slowly being choked by a moustache.
Marie’s Gratiano in MoV.
The absolute beauty that was S&S inside and out: how the environment and the show were beautiful reflections of each other.  –Tohry Petty, Master of Gift and Hype

Seeing Marie take Lit from an idea to two successful, hilarious productions.
Gertrude’s ever-changing speech to Laertes upon revealing Ophelia’s death. (HamLIT)
Medina’s note to make “a sound of marital discontent.” (MoV)
Portia rejecting all the suitors. (MoV)
Ruth as Marianne singing “White Blank Page.” I want to cry just thinking about it. (S&S)
“Doors of Heaven” and “Like a Virgin” (Measure for Measure)
The nurse’s sudden appearance in the bed scene. Even when I knew it was going to happen, it stayed funny.  –Jennifer Czechowski, Sugars and Volunteers Fellow

Thank you so much for sharing these memorable moments with us in 2016. We hope you had a beautiful year and that you found joy, solace,  wonder, and hope in a play. Please share your own Sweet  Tea Shakespeare memories with us, and join us to make new ones in 2017. Happy New Year!