A month of Shakespeare with the Ohio Shakespeare Festival
by Josy Jones
I’ll be honest with you, friend. I don’t care if you like Shakespeare. In fact, if you don’t like Shakespeare, I challenge you to give it a chance. Why? Because I did, and I would never encourage you to try something I wouldn’t. I’ll even walk you through my experience at the Ohio Shakespeare Festival for their run of “The Comedy of Errors” and hopefully it’ll convince you to see a show.
“The Comedy of Errors” is my first performance in Akron since I moved here. For some odd reason, I chose Shakespeare as my first production. Don’t ask me why. Maybe I’m crazy. In my defense, I didn’t expect to be cast as such an important role. As a newbie, I just knew I was going to have to earn my stripes before they trusted me and I was alright with that. So, when I found out I was playing Adriana (one of the main female roles) I was elated. Unfortunately, that happiness was short-lived.
My excitement quickly turned into panic. “Shakespeare? When’s the last time you read Shakespeare, Josy?” and “You’ve never been in a full Shakespeare production! You’re obviously out of your mind!” That panicking inner scream haunted me throughout the rehearsal process. After the show opened, I gained a new respect for Shakespeare and what the company at Ohio Shakespeare Festival is able to do.
Firstly, Shakespeare is hard in every way you’ve considered and a few you haven’t. The obvious struggle is the language. Shakespeare is its own language, so before you’re able to act, you translate. Then you must figure out how to get the audience to understand this language that you’ve recently gotten a semi-decent hold on.
Let’s pile on the fact that “The Comedy of Errors” is farce. Farce is a comedy with outlandish situations, characters and physical action. It is a style that requires a lot of exaggerated—yet particular—physical or vocal actions to hit the comedic points. At times, the particulars of this style drove me to tiny temper tantrums and a few choice words. Fortunately, the director was patient with my fits.
Here’s the kicker: you’re expected to nail the language and style, and all the while the stage is bare. Occasionally you get lucky and there’s a chair, but that’s all you get. There’s no elaborate set to hide behind. The show depends on you and your cast members. Scary, right?
The company members at the Ohio Shakespeare Festival are talented. They have an array of aptitudes. In many cases, there were company members serving two (sometimes three) different roles. Imagine an assistant stage manager as an actor, an actor as the managing director, a set-builder as an actor and even an actor as a costume designer. WHOO! If you thought learning this new language was difficult, try being in two places at once. Nevertheless, they do it all, and they do it well.
After experiencing how hard they work to put up shows for our community, I really don’t care if you like Shakespeare. You don’t have to audition—unless you feel so inclined—but you should attend a show even if it’s only to help them celebrate the hard work they put into each production.
And lastly, to my new theatre buds at OSF, congratulations on your first show in your new home. And thank you for welcoming me with open arms.
Ohio Shakespeare Festival’s next show is “As you Like It,” showing June 30 – July 16. View the entire season’s lineup at OhioShakespeareFestival.com.
Josy recently moved to Akron in January and thinks Akron is an amazing place.
(Featured photo by Scott Custer)