The FMU Artist Series hosted the American Shakespeare Center (ASC) for a performance of William Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” on Jan. 31 in Chapman Auditorium. The traveling company returned to FMU’s campus for performances, classes and workshops.
The troupe began its production with a live performance of popular songs, such as “Jesse’s Girl” and “Two Princes,” staying true to Shakespeare’s incorporation of popular and modern music of his time in his plays.
“Shakespeare always made sure to incorporate the pop songs of his time into his works,” Dr. Linda Jacobs, professor of English said. “He did this mainly to keep with the times and keep young people interested in his plays, just like many people today try to keep students and young people interested in Shakespeare.”
Another way in which this production attempted to be as historically accurate as possible was through the choice of lighting for the performance. The ASC troupe used universal lighting, which basically means the auditorium was lit at all times during the performance, and the light onstage was equal with the light in the seating areas. Jacobs said she was especially impressed by the ASC’s attention to detail.
“In Shakespeare’s time, plays were performed in daylight, and actors had inter-relations with the audience and the atmosphere,” Jacobs said.
Throughout the play, the troupe interacted with the audience members. The ASC integrated audience members into the performance by allowing them to sit on stage during the show. They participated in the performance itself by answering characters’ questions throughout the play. ASC encouraged audience members to sing along with the troupe’s musical performances before the show and during the intermission, and the audience members viewing from the stage had props and were able to interact with the story.
Many spectator said this interaction was a fun and unique experience for them. In most performances actors are expected to treat the audience as if it is behind an invisible wall. Members of the ASC troupe, however, are trained to work closely with audience members and treat them as if they are part of the cast.
“The lack of the fourth wall was a really interesting concept for me to grasp,” troupe member Alec Piper said. “I was fresh out of undergrad when I joined the ASC, and having to play off of the audience was hard at first. But it definitely makes the experience so much better for both us and the audience.”
While most of the ASC troupe had to grow comfortable with this new way of performing, there was one character who had no problem with crowd interaction: a canine sidekick named Crab.
Crab was played by Ella, an adoptable dog from the Florence Area Humane Society (FAHS) in Florence, S.C. While most of Shakespeare’s plays do not feature dogs because of the difficulties that come with training a dog to be comfortable and attentive onstage, Piper said it is very important to the ASC to incorporate adoptable dogs as often as possible.
“When we were assigned this play and knew that there would be a dog role, we knew right away that we wanted to use a shelter dog in order to bring something new to the stage and support a really great cause,” Piper said. “It was really important to us to try to get some sweet puppies adopted and into homes while working on the play. We’ve had some trying dogs in a few other venues, but Ella was just perfect and was a trooper during all our long rehearsals.”
While the ASC actors said the performance was a success in terms of ASC donations, audience turnout and overall performance, they all agreed that the biggest achievement would be finding homes for Ella and other adoptable dogs from FAHS.
Although the ASC is not featured each academic year in FMU’s Artist Series, many troupe members are still active both at FMU and in the local community. The troupe members offer acting classes often. Some troupe members, including Piper, teach costuming and acting workshops at FMU and can be seen from time to time.