By Tyler Graeper, Haberdashery Wright
Every actor has something that they know they are good at and something at which they know they are bad. For example: I know that I can yell, and usually yell pretty convincingly. I can turn anger and other evil feelings on at the drop of a hat. My struggle? I know that I can yell, and sometimes do it convincingly. The thing I consider my greatest strength also happens to be what I consider my greatest weakness, and here’s the thing with Posthumus: he is like an emotional grenade. He explodes at the drop of a hat with very little reason, ration, or thought behind it. Being convinced that his wife is unfaithful takes exactly one scene, and from that scene he launches into a tirade against all women.
Here’s the trap: it is easy to yell, but hard to yell with intention. This is not just a rage; he is not only angry and sad and in pain. He’s also in love. When someone breaks your heart you don’t stop loving them in that moment—maybe you never stop loving them. Every moment of every sentence of every scene has a layer of emotion and intention, and then there’s another layer, and then another. You keep delving into that rabbit hole until you have reached the ultimate intention or emotion. For Posthumus, that’s love. That is where I struggle: finding that beautiful, joyful, indescribable emotion in the midst of all this pain and anguish. I fight to find that every time I perform this monologue. Without it, this monologue has no teeth—there’s no reason for the audience to care about a guy who is simply angry and yelling about a woman who (spoilers) didn’t actually cheat on him. Here at Sweet Tea Shakes there’s a saying that gets passed on a lot, and which I’ve heard increasingly in this production, that “love is the strongest choice,” and I can find no better way to describe my struggle, and Posthumus’s, in Cymbeline.
by Laura J. Parker, Guiderius in Cymbeline
My first acting gig was in high school, in the heady days of the early 1990’s when city government officials thought it was perfectly reasonable to allow high school students complete access to the local cable access TV station and all of it’s equipment. A small group of Breakfast-Club-esque social misfits, we created a sketch comedy show that revolved around a ‘Knight Rider’ parody series. I played the nasal, heavily-Boston-accented girlfriend of the series’ hero—and later got locked in a studio and was “forced” to watch our own show in a MST3K-style parody. The show was ridiculous and full of in-jokes and silly flubs, and we loved every minute of it. We had the chance to create and to play, and it was glorious.
Fast forward to 2009: I was terrified of a public speaking assignment for graduate school, so I enrolled in an improv class to knock the rust off of my public speaking skills. That class jump-started my love of performing, and I soon found myself performing improv on a regular basis. A few years later I auditioned for a play and started doing scripted work.
What delights me about theatre is that, at its core, it’s all about telling stories. We share so many thoughts and feelings and experiences as human beings, and a good play will help the audience look at those experiences with new eyes. Working with a dedicated group of storytellers to share these experiences with the public is a beautiful, joyous, humbling experience—we all bring our own worldviews into the rehearsal process and end up creating something that’s bigger and bolder than we thought it could be. And that’s pretty amazing.
Playing Guiderius in Cymbeline has truly been a rewarding experience. Although I’ve done Shakespeare in the past, this has been my first Sweet Tea show, and it was so beautifully positive. The STS family is warm, open, accepting, and encouraging—and above and beyond that, their approach to Shakespeare is truly FUN. Even though these texts are 400 years old, the fundamental emotional stories still resonate, and STS works hard to bring out the emotional core for the audience. In between all the hard work, STS isn’t afraid to PLAY—to find the joy and the wit and the humor that is within the words. It’s been a joy exploring this little-produced play and finding the fun! STS gifts its actors with the freedom to create, to explore, and to dream, and I’m so grateful to have been able to share in that experience with this remarkable group of people. Much love!
By Justin Heath, Arviragus in Cymbeline
So, last summer (summer of ‘16, as movie cliches would have it), a friend and I went to see STS’s production of The Merchant of Venice. It was a pretty awesome experience! The welcome-ness and open attitude to just sit back, relax, drink if you want (though not for me, because I am underage) was really satisfying! They told us we could sit wherever we liked, and we sat on a quilt for some time during preshow. Then they introduced a lovely thing called Chair Paravel, which was a lavish-looking seat with a bunch of goodies and stuff. They auctioned it, and luckily we got it for $30! The entire time we were living it up! We were watching the show, which was right in front of us, and we also were enjoying our super awesome snacks and stuff from the chair auction. Long story short, the experience was amazing, though I didn’t really know anything about Shakespeare yet. The people were open and nice with the audience, encouraged interaction, and encouraged movement, because STS wanted it to be like a living room experience. Later the following year, the director of my school’s troupe told me that STS was holding auditions and that it would be good if I auditioned and gained some experience outside of high school. I thought, “How hard could it be?” It turns out that was a horrible mindset to have.
The audition date was March 9th, and I remember it because I got there and thought, “I really hope they don’t realize I know nothing about Shakespeare.” They did. But I still managed to get into the production I wanted: Cymbeline! I play a lost prince turned cave-dweller. Well, anyway, the audition went a little something like this: I was confident, memorized in a few minutes, and then immediately forgot, froze up for a second, and then performed what I thought was on the paper–and that is not at all how Shakespeare works. When the day of the read-through came we had a gigantic potluck. Everyone was talking and being super friendly and nice, and it was one of the best completely foreign experiences I could’ve asked for. Everyone was laughing and having fun, and the rehearsal process wasn’t bad either!
I look back to when I first started, and I have learned a lot from STS. They have taught me so much in the past few weeks. I’ve put in a lot of work, and the most satisfying thing is seeing the audience’s reactions to the scenes. At one point we bring in a severed head (not actual for legal reasons of course), and everyone flips out! It’s great! And then when they see my reaction to it they laugh! On the opening night, my girlfriend and parents came to see it, and when I talked to them afterward they spoke about how amazingly talented everyone is, how well they sing, and how the whole experience was like sitting and watching a movie with your family. This has been an experience I have always wanted to capture for people. To be able to do this with such amazing people has been awesome. Even when I make mistakes, they still laugh and have fun. Even on the most stressful nights we have, I still feel love from the people and the audience, and that’s something I am definitely taking with me from STS.
Thanks for such a crazy awesome opportunity!
by Reagan Carstens, Environment Wright
Journey: there is no word better to describe the last three years I have spent with Sweet Tea Shakespeare. My journey with Sweet Tea began at the “ripe old age” of 14. For years, I had done theatre, but little did I know I was in for a vastly different experience when I was cast in The Winter’s Tale as Perdita, a strong (and flirty) young woman who makes her own journey for true love. The Winter’s Tale, and this new kind of theatre, opened up a world of strange, up-close wonder that includes personal and beautiful interactions between actor and audience. In every work I have been a part of, there has been a vital lesson to be learned that has shaped me as an artist and as a human. Over the years, Sweet Tea Shakespeare has taught me the importance of allowing the audience into the story, the sanctity of actor-to-actor-to-audience relationships, and magic. Even more, I have made personal discoveries of the kind of actor and person I want to be: the kind that radiates love, and not the kind who steals it from spectators. In the next few weeks, I will begin another journey in my life at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. I go with the love that Sweet Tea has shared with me, the things I have learned, the intention to keep growing, and the knowledge that I will always have a family in them.
By Ashlyn Parsons, Band Leader and Pisanio in Cymbeline
Theater has witnessed me in a lot of different places in my life. It’s remained my constant when many things that should have been solid were not. Theater classes and shows were where I made friends in high school, where I found role models and adults to depend on, where I felt like I could find peace, sometimes, despite the craziness and wild energy any show can take on with its creation. I took a yoga class my senior year of high school, and one of our meditation assignments was to imagine a place where we could exist and feel solid and calm. That place settled as the stage I was performing on at that point—the auditorium seats empty, dimly lit by the hot white stage lights above, and the too-loud air conditioner humming in the background, but overall quiet like it would have been ten minutes before class began. That was my happy place for a long time. Though I do not perform on that stage anymore, the importance of the theater programs I was involved with as a young(er) teenager are not lost on me.
The majority of my theatrical experience is in acting, and I don’t actually have any fun stories about falling in love with “getting to be somebody that isn’t me for a while!” or anything. I started doing theater because my older sister was in theater in high school and she really enjoyed it, and as her younger sibling, of course I would enjoy it, right? That was the concept, anyway. My first show was Macbeth, directed by Sweet Tea’s own Medina Demeter. I was too scared to audition and the only reason I was involved was there weren’t enough bodies for one scene. What a start, my friends. But it was a start, indeed. From then on, I would be involved with every high school production I could. The first show of my senior year of high school was also Macbeth (that time at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, and that time as a comedy, and if you haven’t ever imagined Macbeth’s potential to be funny, please do yourself a favor and begin). But in that production I actually played Macbeth himself (part of him anyway, in context to the show). Never doubt your ability to grow, is what I’m saying. I’m constantly surprised by my own changes that come with experience and perseverance. I still have a lot of learning to do, as well, and hopefully many, many more experiences alongside that.
Sweet Tea’s Merchant of Venice was my first step into professional theater; it was me dipping a toe to test the water, if you will. I had just finished my freshman year of college and jumped into rehearsal as an assistant stage manager (a week and a half past the start, but exams are exams are exams, I guess), eighteen years old with a shiny new driver’s license and absolutely zero stage management experience. I was fortunate enough to have Medina Demeter as my (amazing, fabulous, who could ask for anything better, honestly?) director and away we went. I was learning about the company and about the actors and about my job as quickly as possible. We were making props and designing the preshow and I hand-painted two and a half boxes with little rainbow diamonds and it was awesome. (I may or may not have gotten that rainbow diamond paint on the backseat of my mom’s car, but it was a w e s o m e.) The end of Merchant was the beginning of Measure for Measure. I was stage managing and also playing the guitar for WoCo, another set of responsibilities to juggle, and while I don’t actually know how to juggle, I did gain a lot. I made friends and, boy, did I learn and experience. (I also got to make a severed head for the first time, so that’s cool.)
Transitioning from high school theater—which, quite frankly, had a heavy hand in making me into the person I am today—to a member of a cast for Sweet Tea was not a particularly difficult thing. We all bring our experiences with us to the next place we arrive, after all, and pushing forward does not have to mean leaving behind. There are things I have found to be similar in my experiences; at Sweet Tea, I have made friends, I am finding role models, and the backyard of the Poe House? That’s a happy place for me, too. This summer, I’m acting for Sweet Tea for the first time. Changing hats is never easy, but I can feel this overall experience turning into an amazingly positive one. This show is full of great people; who better to learn from?
By Andrew Daniels, Iachimo in Cymbeline
Howdy, I’m Andrew Daniels. I came all the way from Marion, Indiana, to play the villain (well, one of them anyway), Iachimo, in Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s summer production of Cymbeline! Now, I know what you’re thinking: “What’s this Hoosier doing coming all the way down to Tar Heel country just to say some dead guy’s funny words?” Well, I can tell you that my decision wasn’t completely based on our shared affinity for strange regional nicknames born from antiquated colloquialisms—though that was definitely high on the list. No, I made the twelve-hour trek to Fayetteville from my hometown in the Crossroads of America to be part of a theatre company I love, and one that regularly produces art that matters. So, let’s talk about some Billy Shakes!
As I sat here trying to think of something to write about (and neglecting my line memorization… Sorry, Ruth), I found myself procrastinating and reading articles online, as one does. I came across an article relating to the protests of the Public Theater’s production Julius Caesar in New York City. Whatever your feelings—love the production or hate it—there is no denying it: that production, the art they are creating, matters. Why does it matter? Shakespeare is making people, ordinary people, feel things in a visceral way, and that’s precisely the point of it all.
We have a problem in modern theaters of participating in a form of theatrical self-indulgence; we artists can be selfish sometimes. We fall into the trap of producing and consuming art for ourselves and only ourselves, completely forgetting that our art is not for us. Too often, theaters don’t trust their audiences, so they produce the Bard’s work in this self-serving manner. In many people’s minds, the very utterance of Shakespeare’s name conjures images of powder-face ninnies in tights rhyming to the moon in falsetto verse. Yet we still wonder why his work isn’t well received. Well, Sweet Tea has cracked the code by—surprise!—trusting their audience and working exceptionally hard.
STS understands these aren’t lofty, pinky-out texts, but rather relatable fables with human emotion and interaction at their core. By no means does this company attempt to grab their audience by the wrist and forcefully drag them through a barrage of Shakespeare’s complicated verse, as so many often do. Instead, Sweet Tea strives to work with the text, understanding and performing it in a grounded way with honesty that makes it enjoyable for audience members of all backgrounds. Going the extra mile allows the company to build fantastic new worlds for their patrons to wander around in. It allows viewers to really feel the love, loss, joy, suffering, victory that these characters are living and maybe even discover something about themselves along the way. This is why I believe that STS is doing theatre that matters in the real world today. Doing the extra work takes love and an immense passion for doing things the right way, which isn’t always the easy way.
Here at Sweet Tea, you won’t find us stabbing presidential effigies, but what you will find is a group of selfless, passionate, dedicated individuals who understand what art is all about. So come out to see Cymbeline and wander with us for a while! If nothing else, I heard there would be beer and barbecue. So, come for that, and stay to watch us say some dead guy’s funny words.