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Our Stormy Season

By Jeremy Fiebig, Artistic Director

Though I certainly wasn’t tracking the proverbial weather at the time, we ended up with a stormy season in 2017-2018. As this season comes to a close, I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on the passing storms at Sweet Tea Shakespeare, our productions this year, and the stormy nature of the present moment on this mortal coil. One of my common phrases with those who work with me closely is that life imitates art, by which I mean that we tend to become, in reality, a version of what we produce onstage. If you’re playing Hamlet onstage, you’ve got to be a little careful of your own psyche, for instance. And if you’re playing Macbeth, you’ve got to keep your ambition in check. And so on. What I often forget as I parcel out this advice to others is to take it myself, and so I should’ve known that a season in which we scheduled King Lear, LITSummer, Songs for a New World, Jane Eyre, The Tempest, and Pericles was going to be a stormy one, even if magical.

As a couple handfuls of STS company members gathered daily to make the trek from Methodist University to William Peace University to rehearse King Lear in partnership with Honest Pint Theatre Company, I should have predicted the stormy, divisive way that life would imitate art. The Monday or Tuesday after we started rehearsals in August, I was called in to my department chair’s office for a meeting about STS. In that conversation, my chair and I discerned that it was time for STS to divide itself away from its functioning home since its founding in 2012, Fayetteville State University, just as Lear divides his kingdom among his daughters. If you can imagine the existentially thunderous reality of trying to figure out how to make that happen while directing a monolithic play and traveling several hundred miles a week, you may have a sense of what the core folks in the company were dealing with at that time. King Lear is a play where all the wrong (and a few of the right) people die at the end, and the realization of our own mortality at Sweet Tea Shakespeare resuscitated us at the very last moment, bringing our common life and the importance of what we do into sharp focus. Our heart would continue to beat.

Between that August meeting and mid-October, we worked on a magically fun production of LITSummer, the latest installment of our drunken Shakespeare series, this one based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Although that play doesn’t have quite the storm of Lear, it does have a certain element of capricious mischief, an inherent mistrust among and between its characters–lovers and fairies, royals and mechanicals. And it’s a play where a lot goes wrong before it begins to go right. In the life-imitates-art department, imagine me a panicked Peter Quince huddled in the corner hoping things go okay. We filed to incorporate Sweet Tea Shakespeare as a non-profit 501(c)3 company right in the thick of that, and received our approval from the state on November 1st and from the IRS in early January.

           

Since January, we’ve produced four shows, all with storms in them. Songs for a New World is about storms external and internal, from the deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship to the rainy day of a soldier’s funeral. Jane Eyre had both the literal storm crashing atop Rochester’s proposal  and the stormy journey Jane herself was on. In both Pericles and The Tempest, storms are the definition of travail, anguish, and suffering, separating this person from that, ending worlds of a sort. And since January, in the “real world” of Sweet Tea Shakespeare and in the real world of planet earth, things have been stormy as well. Life has imitated art. And though I won’t go into all the details here, I’m sure you can imagine how the dark clouds have taken shape, crackling with lightning and buzzing with incessant showers.

And yet here we are, closing out one kind of hurricane season here at STS, washed ashore after a rocky ride or two, looking ahead to a new sort of world, including a very ambitious 2018-2019 season. We don’t come ashore intact without the diligent work of some important fairies and wizards, of course, and so I want to take a moment to thank the company members, actors, musicians, and craftspeople of Sweet Tea Shakespeare for working their magic during this year even as we’ve faced some strong headwinds now and again. Seven folks deserve very high praise indeed, both for their work as artists and as company leaders. Marie Lowe, Jessica Osnoe, Jacob French, Tohry Petty, Jen Czechowski, Medina Demeter, and Jen Pommerenke serve as board members for STS and what we call “Masters”–folks who lead company operations. We thank tremendously our artists who’ve traveled from far away, including when far away means almost daily commutes from Raleigh or Laurinburg or Virginia and points beyond (thanks Cerina, Alexcia, Tyler, Mary Lynn, Aaron, Hannah, Alex, Arlie, Will, Jessica Schiermeister, Ana, Austin, and anyone else I might’ve forgotten). Thanks to our very magical newcomers, Sana (who is not exactly a newcomer), and Dean and Dena and kiddos, who have, in a very short time, transformed some key elements of our company in needed ways. Thanks to Laura Parker, Barry Jaked, Steve Wood, Traycie Zapata, Christine Orozco, Taj Allen, Joyce Borum, and the many capable hands as designers, builders, and doers who have helped us step up our production game with a new portable playhouse, a huge stock of costumes, new paint, a new sound system, new lighting booms and fixtures, and some killer production elements for our last two productions in particular. Thanks to our venues and their staffs, especially David Reid at the Museum of the Cape Fear and Jeff Thornberg at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, as well as St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Paddy’s, Cape Fear Botanical Garden, Wade Newhouse at William Peace University, Fainting Goat Brewing, and everywhere else I’m forgetting. Thanks to our incredible audiences, especially our Patrons, Sponsors, and season ticket holders who have literally kept the lights on and the actors paid more times this year than I can count. Thanks to Jen Pomm and our new young company, Green Tea, and their parents, who are testing out the Shakespeare ropes even now before sailing on to their first production later this year.

Without all these folks–and many more whose names aren’t listed here because I am a forgetful guy (thanks, Lear)–we simply wouldn’t have weathered the storm of this season in the way we have. That we’re intact at all is a testament to the STS community. I am–we are–exceedingly grateful to be here.

And here’s the thing: the storms are going to rage on (have you read The Comedy of Errors or Sweeney Todd or Richard III? Yikes.), but our ship is tight and yare and we’re preparing as best we can for what’s on and beyond the horizon. And that reminds me of one more thing: we’re new at this. Tremendously new. We aren’t meteorologists or sailors or whatever the stormy-shipwreck metaphor most requires. We are, for instance, still figuring out how to sail the budget seas on ticket sales and a smattering of sponsorships and monthly pledges. And we’re learning how to season our company–working on everything from managing cash flow to forming contracts to rigging up policies and more. What we’ve found on the journey so far is that we need more members of the crew. Yes, artists, but also doers and lawyers and money people and board members and fundraisers and sponsors and Patrons and ticket buyers and sales reps and property owners and and and. If we’re not careful, those needs can begin to sound like a mighty thunderous front rolling through every now and again, lightning striking ground in the form of this crisis here and that fire to put out there. It can be loud and overwhelming at times–and the needs can be great–but we are hoping you’ll come on board with us.

And we’ll weather whatever comes next.

 

 

 

On the Apocalypse

By Jeremy Fiebig, Artistic Director 

There’s a group of people who will show up to a King Lear production and who will tell you King Lear has to be one thing: sad.

It has to be sad, they’ll say, because it’s the saddest of the Shakespeare plays, because it is utterly catastrophic. Because everyone dies, and especially dead is the sweet daughter of a foolish, fond old man, and some other sympathetic characters.

These people, the ones who say King Lear is really sad, aren’t entirely wrong. I do think it’s sad in places, especially at the end. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that part of the reason so many of these folks think King Lear is especially sad is because someone told them it ought to be. That someone might’ve been an English teacher or a theatre director or an actor. And, look, I like all those people.

And I think sadness is not, in fact, the point of King Lear. Or its sadness is not what makes it great.

I can think of other things which contribute to making it great–things like horror, depravity, a sense of the mythic, and the love and controversial grace in it.

See, when we get to the end of King Lear, there are three dudes left standing: Albany, a man who flips sides really easily; Kent, a hot-headed but well-meaning exile who looks after Lear as he goes mad; Edgar, a desperate, perhaps even unstable, presence of protection for Lear throughout the play. Their presence is controversial, in my view, like three chiefs of staff watching the world burn impossibly and destructively, and still choosing to fight the fire.

As I once was a religion major in college, I have just enough theological jargon to get me into trouble. But trouble is where we live, and so: the word apocalypse, in Greek, means “revealing.” In theology, apocalypses are the things that happen at the cataclysmic ends of the story:

-Adam and Eve are banished from the garden.

-All but Noah and his family are washed from the face of the earth.

-The Hebrews live in slavery under Pharoah.

-The Hebrews are exiled to Babylon and Assyria.

-The Temple is destroyed and rebuilt and destroyed again.

-Jesus dies.

-The earth ends in fire and brimstone.

-Job loses his family and wealth and curses the universe.

Hollywood has picked up on the destruction part of the apocalypse, of course, in every movie from Superman to Armageddon to Transformers, and it’s what sticks with us. Tragedies and apocalypses are valuable to us, you see, because they allow us to affirm our lives, and life itself, in the face of destruction.

Our world likes to take the tragic and apocalyptic frame and apply it wherever possible. 9/11. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Shootings. Bad Presidents. And it likes to say, quite cheaply, if you ask me, “watch this with your sad hat on.” Some folks call it tragedy porn.

But on a theological, literary, and theatrical basis, the sad apocalypse thinking doesn’t hold up for too long. Eventually, that actor is going to have to stand up, take a bow, and come back to do it all again tomorrow night. A hero will rise (use your best movie trailer voice). The actor playing Cordelia is still breathing. There is room for laughter in this play, just like there is room for sadness. And for horror.

The theologians of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament have a phrase for this. It’s called the deuteronomic cycle.

-Banishment from the garden leads to restoration, children, and freedom.

-Noah gets a new start.

-The Hebrews escape Egypt and make their way back to the land of milk and honey.

-The exile ends.

-The Temple becomes people.

-Jesus is resurrected.

-A new earth begins.

-Job is restored.

The good news is always there, the other side of the same coin, the last Jedi, the secret key, the dodged bullet.

My calculation for our production of Lear was this:

It’s pretty bad out there right now for a lot of people. People are sad. Bad things are happening. Wouldn’t it be good if, in exploring the apocalypse of King Lear in a way that might remind us of all those very bad things, if we — just a little bit — caught a glimpse of the restoration?

 

Read More

Sunshine and Rain

by Jessica Osnoe, Master of Company & Honey, Associate Artistic Director

I play a handful of assorted characters in King Lear who range in status from a rebellious servant to the Duke of Burgundy, and of all the scenes and lines, one moment has become a favorite. As a gentleman charged with delivering letters to Cordelia from Kent, I report her reception of their distressing news with both “patience and sorrow.” The expression Shakespeare chooses to describe Cordelia’s response of smiles and tears is that of “sunshine and rain at once.” These words, for me, encapsulate everything I now love about this play and the production.Read More

Fight Call

By Jen Pommerenke, Cut Fellow

Desperation is a fantastic and curious catalyst.  It causes aspects of a person’s nature that perhaps have lain dormant–or that have been nonexistent–to catapult to the forefront of action. In choreographing fights, I relish the opportunity to create a sense of manifested desperation and hope. Creating these stories of hidden fears, strengths, and character traits through a fight is intriguing. People’s fighting styles are developed out of a lifetime of teaching, movement, and convictions; thus, no two people should fight the same.

Once I understood what the overall style of the show would be, I began to piece together the kinds of fights that I had never seen–fights that heighten the terror which already saturates King Lear: creative kills, terrifying weapons, and, in some cases, humor. Seeing the rehearsal process for each character who would eventually fight helped me glean how they moved, how they spoke, and what their objectives were. I sought to reflect the story of what they were fighting for emotionally and psychologically in what they fought for physically. Each fight had a story in which only the end was certain, and I wanted the physical movement of the fight to tell that story.  Fighting for justice shouldn’t look the same as fighting for power; fighting with a sense of honor should be colored differently than fighting with murderous ambition.Read More

Dressing Lear

By Laura J. Parker, Costume Designer for King Lear

Costume design is the marriage of the pragmatic and the picturesque—it’s artistic world-building with a heavy dose of practical stagecraft to ensure that the actors have the movement, flexibility, and tools they need to tell the story. When approaching a script, I have to be aware of what the world is and how each character operates within that world. Conversations begin early on in the process between the director and production team to discover the feeling of the story we want to tell, especially with such openly beautiful scripts as King Lear. The script can be interpreted in so many ways. This production centers around family—a community coming together in celebration, and the quick and brutal way those relationships can unravel. The story has captivated audiences for centuries because the core of it—vulnerability, ego, love, betrayal, madness, forgiveness—is universal.Read More

Music and Motivation: Goneril’s Playlist

By Tohry Petty, Master of Pomp, Director of Creative Engagement

 

One of the things I love about Sweet Tea Shakespeare is how we use music to help tell our story. It’s not just background music or space filler—it’s a part of the show, a thread that helps weave the story together.

To me, music has always been the perfect motivator and storyteller. I often create a playlist for my character and for Sweet Tea Shakespeare + Honest Pint’s production of King Lear, this time is no different. Throughout the entire process, I use the songs as inspiration, motivation, and background music while I study lines and prepare to go onstage.

Welcome to my playlist; let me show you around.Read More