Category Archives: Events


(Via Emily Owens, Emily Owens PR–rehearsal photo from Ladies at Tea.)  



First Flight Theatre Company


Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea or I Thought You’d Never Asp

Written by Kathleen Kirk

Shakespeare’s Deaths

Written by the Free Shakespeare Theatre Company of Chicago

Directed by Frank Farrell

Presented as part of the 2023 Little Shakespeare Festival

August 3- 20 at UNDER St. Marks


First Flight Theatre Company will present Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea or I Thought You’d Never Asp written by Kathleen Kirk and Shakespeare’s Deaths written by the Free Shakespeare Theatre Company of Chicago, both directed by Frank Farrell. This production will be presented as part of the 2023 Little Shakespeare Festival at UNDER St. Marks (94 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009) with performances on Thu 8/10 at 9pm, Fri 8/11 at 10pm, Sat 8/12 at 5pm, Fri 8/18 at 6pm & Sat 8/19 at 7pm. Tickets ($25 in person) are available for advance purchase at www.frigid.nycThe performance will run approximately 55 minutes.

Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea is a sketch of what might happen if eight Shakespearean ladies were to get together for tea. Each character is only able to speak the lines the Bard gave her, and the women are at first embarrassed and uncertain what to say at all, but Cleopatra is fearless and Lady Macbeth keeps things rolling along pretty well: in all the party is a triumph.


Shakespeare’s Deaths To close the marathon, at dinnertime Saturday, the players pratfell through a 10-minute rapid-fire condensation of almost every death scene in Shakespeare’s 37 plays. Over and over, they were shot, stabbed and clubbed, but finally fell recumbent upon the ground, their eyes all closed at last, a great labor done: ‘My gross flesh sinks downward – I can no more – Farewell, friends. This, this be ends.’”  Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune, Monday, April 26, 1982.


There are 74 onstage deaths in the works of William Shakespeare — 75 if you count the black ill-favored fly killed in Titus Andronicus. From the Roman suicides in Julius Caesar to the death fall of Prince Arthur in King John; from the carnage at the end of Hamlet to snakes in a basket in Antony and Cleopatra. And then there’s the pie that Titus serves his guests. Audiences will see all these and more in 15 minutes, updated for 2023 by the founder of Chicago’s Free Shakespeare Theatre Company, Frank Farrell.

The cast will feature Stella Berrettini, Joseph Bowen, Danny Crawford, Claudia Egli, Frank Farrell, Imogen Finlayson, Marsha-Ann Hay and Jennifer Kim with Stage Manager Thomas J. Donohoe II.

KATHLEEN KIRK (Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea/Playwright) is a widely-published poet, freelance writer, editor, actor, and director who moved back to her hometown in central Illinois after a career in Chicago. She serves on the Board of Heartland Theatre Company, where she has acted, directed, and written short plays for the Young at Heartland acting troupe. She writes history-based scripts for Illinois Voices Theatre, performed in the annual History Makers Gala and Evergreen Cemetery Walk for the McLean County Museum of History. In Chicago, Kathleen acted with the Free Shakespeare Company, for which Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea was written, as well as the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Court Theatre, and others, and directed in the Organic Theater’s New Plays Festival. She is the poetry editor for Escape Into Life, an online journal, and works part time at a public library.


FRANK FARRELL (Director & Artistic Director of the First Flight Theatre Company) has recently directed three short films and one full length; Walt Kelly’s Songs of the Pogo, The Leaves Were FallingSalvador and In the Garden of Live Flowers. He was an actor in Chicago for 40 years receiving three Joseph Jefferson acting nominations and recently returned to NYC where he was born. While in Chicago he directed and produced plays for Free Shakespeare Theatre Company, Temporary Theatre, Shakespeare’s Herd, Steppenwolf Theater, Raven Theatre, Equity Library Theater Chicago, the North Lakeside Players and Theatre-Hikes. For Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest, IL he directed outdoor productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, Spoon River Anthology, Romeo and Juliet and Scapin. Frank has formed six theater companies along the way including Theatre-Hikes in Chicago and, in Grand Haven, Michigan, the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company. In NYC he wrote, directed and produced Forgotten Soldiers from Our Forgotten War for the First Flight Theatre Company, the seventh theatre group he has formed. For First Flight he also coordinated several stage readings of Maxwell Anderson’s plays in New York City and Chicago. Frank directed and produced last summer’s production of Maxwell Anderson’s play Valley Forge and this summer’s production of Little Women for First Flight at The Hermitage Mansion in Bergen County, New Jersey. His Zoom film In the Garden of Live Flowers recently won Best Biopic at the Green Academy Awards Film Festival. Since 2015 he has published seven books including Forgotten Soldiers from Our Forgotten War, all available at

THE FREE SHAKESPEARE THEATRE COMPANY (Shakespeare’s Deaths/Playwright) had its beginnings in October 1980 when Frank Farrell assembled a group of Chicagoans to explore Shakespeare’s plays and try to make them more accessible to modern audiences. The book Free Shakespeare by John Russell Brown served as a guide for the new company. Brown hoped a group of actors would get together and with no rehearsal and no director put on Shakespeare’s plays for the public. In this way he theorized that the actors and the audience would discover the plays together. For its first season the company presented 12 Plays by Shakespeare in late night weekend performances at a new theatre space at the time behind Chicago’s Second City Theatre. In April of 1982 for Shakespeare’s birthday Free Shakespeare presented a 24-hour marathon of plays and sonnets by the Bard. This marathon included the two short plays Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea and Shakespeare’s Deaths. The Free Shakespeare Theatre Company was Chicago’s first year-round Shakespeare company and continued producing plays by Shakespeare for many years. It proved to be a valuable training ground for young actors during Chicago’s burgeoning theatre growth in the final decades of the 20th century. 

FIRST FLIGHT THEATRE COMPANY is a not-for-profit founded by Frank Farrell in 2018 is devoted to presenting the plays of 20th century American playwright Maxwell Anderson as well as other playwrights who instill poetry in their writing. Since its start the company has performed live stage readings of Anderson’s plays in New Jersey, New York City and Chicago including Valley Forge, Elizabeth the Queen, Mary of Scotland, Sea-Wife, The Masque of Queens, White Desert and The Eve of St. Mark. In addition, the company presented live presentations in New York City of Frank Farrell’s play Forgotten Soldiers from Our Forgotten War, Maxwell Anderson’s first Broadway play White Desert in Chicago and Dickens by Candlelight: A Christmas Carol at the Hermitage in New Jersey. During the pandemic First Flight presented play readings on Zoom for the public. These were benefits featuring actors from all over the United States and England and they benefited various not-for-profits. Productions streamed included Maxwell Anderson’s one-act plays The Feast of Ortolans, Second Overture, The Miracle of the Danube and Letter to Jackie. Also streamed were A Vampire Kiss in the Plague of 1666 written by James Fitzmaurice, which went on to win many awards on the film festival circuit, Salvador, a play about Salvador Dalí by Richard Young, another film festival winner, and a streaming version of Anderson’s White Desert. Post-pandemic the company presented at The Hermitage in New Jersey outdoor productions of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Maxwell Anderson’s Valley Forge followed by indoor performances of Mina, based on Dracula and a reprise of Dickens by Candlelight: A Christmas Carol. For this past Earth Day in April the First Flight Theatre Company presented streaming performances of In the Garden of Live Flowers, a play about Rachel Carsonwhich went on to be a winner at this year’s Green Academy Award Film Festival. Most recently the company and the Instant Shakespeare Company have joined forces presenting play readings at New York City’s various public libraries including Anderson’s White Desert and Sea-Wife and upcoming in December Maxwell Anderson’s 1924 play What Price


(Javier C. Hernandez’s article appeared in The New York Times and Japan Times, 7/27. Photo: Cincinnati Opera’s new production of “Madame Butterfly,” directed by Matthew Ozawa, frames the action as a virtual-reality fantasy of Japan. | MADDIE MCGARVEY / THE NEW YORK TIMES.)


The auditorium lights dimmed, and the cast and crew of Cincinnati Opera’s new production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” anxiously took their places.

For months, the team, made up largely of Asian and Asian American artists, had worked to reimagine the classic opera, upending its stereotypes about women and Japanese culture. They had updated the look of the opera with costumes and sets partly inspired by anime, scrubbed the libretto of historical inaccuracies and recast much of the work as a video-game fantasy. They gathered at the Cincinnati Music Hall one evening last week to fine-tune their creation before its opening last Saturday.

“It feels a little like a grand experiment,” says the production’s director, Matthew Ozawa, whose father is Japanese and mother is white. “It’s very emotional.”

“Madame Butterfly,” which premiered in 1904 (and is set around that time), tells the story of a lovelorn 15-year-old geisha in Nagasaki who is abandoned by an American Navy lieutenant after he gets her pregnant. The opera has long been criticized for its portrait of Asian women as exotic and submissive, and the use of exaggerated makeup and stereotypical costumes in some productions has drawn fire.

Now, after years of pressure by artists and activists and a growing awareness of anti-Asian hate, many companies are reworking the opera and giving artists of Asian descent a central role in reshaping its message and story. In a milestone, directors with Asian roots are leading four major productions this year in the United States.

San Francisco Opera recently staged a version, directed by Amon Miyamoto, that explored the suffering and discrimination experienced by a biracial character. Boston Lyric Opera is setting part of its coming production in a Chinatown nightclub in San Francisco in the 1940s, and part in an incarceration camp.

New Orleans Opera rewrote the traditional ending in a recent production to give the title character a sense of agency. Instead of committing suicide, she throws aside a dagger handed to her, picks up her son and storms offstage.

(Read more)

(Read at New York Times)


(Clare Brennan’s article appeared in The Observer, 7/30; Photo: ‘Ophelia-like’ Sophie Lenglinger as Nora, with Liam Heslin as Jack, in The Plough and the Stars. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh.) 

Town Hall theatre, Galway
O’Casey’s three plays of working-class Dublin life encompass conflict, grief and the human spirit in Garry Hynes’s fine production

 A highlight of this year’s Galway international arts festival (GIAF), DruidO’Casey is a new play cycle by Druid theatre company of the “Dublin trilogy” by one of Ireland’s greatest playwrights, Seán O’Casey (1880-1964). The three plays are presented back to back, in chronological sequence, over one day. The experience is revelatory. O’Casey grew up in working-class Dublin, and his portrayal, here, of life in the city’s tenements during the years of conflict between 1915 and 1922 becomes an expression of the wider world, its yesterdays, todays and tomorrows.

This fine production by Druid’s co-founder and longstanding artistic director, Garry Hynes, probes the ambiguities and indeterminacies of O’Casey’s texts, ultimately requiring us to take seriously a laughter-raising line: “There’s no such thing as an Irishman, an Englishman, or a German or a Turk; we’re all only human bein’s.”

Actors, revelling in the richness of O’Casey’s Dublin demotic, bring his impoverished characters to rumbustious life. Francis O’Connor’s design roots their tenement homes in reality with smoking ranges and solid props, but backs them with walls that have the sheen of pale-green marble, rising in slabs – like a memorial pressing on to the living.

As The Plough and the Stars (1926) opens in 1915. Fluther (comically brilliant Aaron Monaghan) is fixing a lock on to a door for a young wife, Nora, who wants to keep the world beyond at bay (an inverted echo of Ibsen’s bourgeois Nora, slamming the door as she leaves her “doll’s house”). She cannot: a door is always both entrance and exit.

In a pub, Nora’s neighbours are drinking and wrangling. Beyond the window, a speaker addresses a rally: “Without shedding of blood, there is no redemption!” Hynes’s direction highlights O’Casey’s ironic juxtaposition. Pausing their shenanigans, light streaming on to their upturned faces, drinkers are disciples looking for guidance, sinners longing to be saints (lighting, James F Ingalls).

Nora’s husband, Jack (swithering, Liam Heslin), follows the “Starry Plough” flag to 1916’s Easter Rising and his death. Nora flees her home, miscarries her baby and loses her mind (Sophie Lenglinger, Ophelia-like). Bessie, the aggressive, swaggering, Rule, Britannia-singing neighbour against whom Nora wanted to lock her door, becomes the play’s improbable martyr (Hilda Fay, soul wrenching), shot trying to protect Nora. Soldiers in the street mistook her silhouette in a window for that of a sniper.

This indeterminacy of appearances is at the heart of The Shadow of a Gunman (1923). It is May, 1920, the Irish war of independence is being waged. In a room in a tenement sits Donal, fashioning a poem. His roommate, Seumas, is getting up (blustering Rory Nolan). Maguire (Heslin) breezes in and out, leaving a bag behind. A stream of neighbours follows, in awe of Donal. All imagine he is on the run, including “lovely little Minnie”.

“Minnie is attracted to the idea, and I am attracted to Minnie,” smiles Donal to himself (self-indulgently self-centred; Marty Rea). “And what danger can there be in being the shadow of a gunman?”

When danger appears, Donal and Seumas cower, quivering on a bed, Laurel and Hardy-comical. They leave the fearful Minnie (butterfly-like Caitríona Ennis) courageously to assume the role Donal no longer wishes to pretend to.

Closing the day, Juno and the Paycock (1924) at first seems disappointing. We have come to expect hilarity and theatricality, balancing outrageously against tragedy. Initially, the presentation of the Boyle family feels flat by comparison, staid and standard naturalism. In fact, it turns out to be the magnificent culmination of what has gone before.

It is 1922. The Irish civil war is under way. Juno struggles to feed her family: workshy husband, a “captain” who has never been to sea; maimed son Johnny (Tommy Harris, haunted), former Irregular turned informer, waiting fearfully for retribution (although the family does not know this); and daughter Mary (Zara Devlin, from pert to crushed), on strike because “a principle’s a principle”. News of a legacy brings hope, credit, material goods. It’s a mistake. There is no inheritance.

(Read more)


(Marion Chaval’s, Magali Faure’s, and Eve Jackson’s article appeared on France24, 7/26.)

Just over 100 years ago, painters, sculptors, writers and musicians battled for gold, silver and bronze at the Olympics in the French capital. To mark a year until the Paris Games, we’re looking at the artistic side of the world’s biggest sporting event. FRANCE 24 brings you an exclusive interview with highly acclaimed theatre director Thomas Jolly, who’s directing the opening and closing ceremonies. Also on the programme: the new Olympic sport of breakdancing and the Michelin-starred chefs cooking for the athletes.



(Mark Lawson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/20; Photo: Gripping … Sarah Slimani in Grenfell: In the Words of Survivors at Dorfman theatre, London. Photograph: Myah Jeffers.)

Dorfman theatre, London
Piling up devastating detail, this play with a remarkable cast shockingly lays bare the abject failures behind this disaster

During dramas about a national catastrophe – in films such as Jimmy McGovern’s Hillsborough (1996) and Paul Greengrass’s United 93 (2006) – viewers have the sickening sense of watching real people doomed to die horribly. A variant comes in the National Theatre’s exploration of the 2017 fire at Grenfell Tower in west London that took 72 lives and devastated hundreds more. The subtitle reveals that the nine residents depicted all got out.

It begins with the lights up as the cast, out of character, explain that if the content overwhelms us, we can leave and return. No images or sounds of fire will be used and the residents dramatised have consented to the words used having been taken from interviews with novelist and writer Gillian Slovo.

This culturally kind prologue made me fear that the show might not be cruel enough to the architects of this disaster of politics and construction. But Slovo – with directors Phyllida Lloyd and Anthony Simpson-Pike – piles up devastating detail from the verbatim survivor accounts, public inquiry transcripts and TV interviews.

The central charge is that the conflagration at Grenfell Tower started with sparks from a promised bonfire of regulation and red-tape by David Cameron. Tory ministers failed to heed a coroner’s warning after an earlier block blaze killed six. Cladding materials that failed safety tests (one flare-up almost torching the laboratory) were banned elsewhere but allowed in the light-touch UK.

It is convincingly suggested that local authority housing policy resulted in a sort of social cleansing with tenants – often diverse or disadvantaged – isolated and ignored in a corner of a super-rich postcode. Residents who raised concerns were told in terms to be grateful for having a potential inferno over their heads. Such prejudice led to a police riot squad being dispatched to Grenfell, in case local people kicked-off about the dangers.

(Read more)


(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/23; Photo: Gertrude Robins, pictured in 1911: she depicted women’s often limited choices between second-rate marriages and independence. Photograph: National Portrait Gallery London.)

Powerful dramas that speak to today’s audiences, retrieved after British Library discovery, will be performed in London next month

It was a chance discovery in the British Library that has led to a change in fortune for Gertrude Robins – though she has had to wait more than 100 years after her death to achieve it.

In the early 20th century, Robins was among the female playwrights seen as up-and-coming rivals to George Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy and JM Barrie, but over time her work was gradually forgotten.

Now two of her one-act socially conscious plays – Makeshifts and Realities – are being revived. Andrew Maunder, a scholar of early 20th century theatre, stumbled across them in the library after researching plays of the period and was struck by their quality.

He told the Observer these works were not “historical curiosities” but plays that spoke to modern audiences through lead characters who faced dilemmas over double standards and the expectations placed on women.

He described them as “so well crafted” that they did not need to be updated or edited for the performances that he is producing at the Finborough theatre in London from next month.

Robins, who was also an actor and one of the first female pilots, wrote at least 14 plays before her life was cut short by tuberculosis. Her death in 1917, aged just 37, sparked speculation over what might have been had she lived to write more plays.

A host of female playwrights have been overlooked in favour of male dramatists but, in their own day, they were as celebrated

Andrew Maunder

In 1908, Makeshifts premiered to great acclaim at the Gaiety Theatre, Manchester, whose then artistic director, Annie Horniman, described it as “one of the best one-act plays … performed at my theatre”.

Noting that, by 1908, votes for women was among the significant issues of the day, Maunder said that the plays touched on suffragist ideas and that Horniman encouraged plays written by women or about them, arguing that they “have not yet risen to their proper position”.

Set in a London suburb, Makeshifts is about thirtysomething sisters Caroline and Dolly, with uncertain futures unless they can find husbands. They must choose between settling for second-best men and independence. Dolly, who is “inclined to brusquerie and superficial sharpness”, tells her sister: “Men fight shy of girls like me. They think we’re too clever.”

An immediate hit, Makeshifts led to thousands of performances across the world, from Australia to South Africa. In 1913, one reviewer wrote: “It is a perfect little work of art worthy to [rank] with JM Barrie’s The Twelve-Pound Look.” Others described it as “brilliantly written” and said of her characters: “Her people are real people, which means that they talk and do real things.”

In the sequel, Realities, which premiered in Manchester in 1911, Caroline has married one of those disappointing men and finds herself tempted by a former suitor who wants her as his mistress.

Maunder is head of the department of humanities at the University of Hertfordshire and editor of the series British Literature of World War I.

He believes that the two plays were last performed at the end of the first world war: “I haven’t found any record apart from that – although possibly by amateur groups, because they’re very actable.”

(Read more)



(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/20; Photo: Jose Llana, left, and Arielle Jacobs as Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in “Here Lies Love” at the Broadway Theater in Manhattan.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

Jesse Green saw “Here Lies Love” in 2013 at the Public Theater (standing) and on Tuesday at the Broadway Theater (sitting)

Here Lies Love

It’s the applause — including my own — I find troubling.

Not that there isn’t plenty to praise in “Here Lies Love,” the immersive disco-bio-musical about Imelda Marcos that opened on Thursday at the Broadway Theater. The infernally catchy songs by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, performed by a tireless and inspired all-Filipino cast, will have you clapping whether you want to or not. Their chunky beats, abetted by insistent dance motivators, may even prompt you to bop at your seat — if you have one.

Because the real star of this show is the astonishing architectural transformation of the theater itself, by the set designer David Korins. Opened in 1924 as a movie palace, more lately the home of “King Kong” and “West Side Story,” the Broadway has now been substantially gutted, its nearly 1,800 seats reduced to about 800, with standing room for another 300 in the former orchestra section and a 42-inch disco ball dead center.


The folks upstairs, if not the mostly younger standees below, will surely recognize the visual reference to Studio 54, the celebrity nightclub where Marcos, the first lady of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, danced away the last decade of her reign while impoverishing her people. That she would probably adore the over-emphatic atmosphere of “Here Lies Love” — with its lurid lighting by Justin Townsend, skittering projections by Peter Nigrini and earsplitting sound by M.L. Dogg and Cody Spencer — is, however, equivocal praise.

For here we are, at the place where irony and meta-messaging form a theatrical-historical knot that can’t be picked apart. Which is why, as you clap, you should probably wonder what for.

Is it for Imelda (Arielle Jacobs), the beauty queen who rose from “hand-me-downs and scraps” to become the fashion-plate wife of the Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos? Is it for the ruthless Ferdinand himself (Jose Llana)? (His landslide election in 1965 elicited some Pavlovian cheers the night I saw the show.) Or is it for Ninoy Aquino (Conrad Ricamora), the opposition leader who was Imelda’s former beau? (Having spurned her in their youth, he was later assassinated by forces thought to be close to Ferdinand’s regime.) All get equivalent star treatment here.

The confusion of sympathies is just where Byrne and the director Alex Timbers want us. Avoiding the near-hagiography of “Evita” and yet unwilling to bank a commercial production on a totally hateful character, they aim for a middle ground that doesn’t exist, yet mostly hit it anyway. Their Imelda is a victim of poverty and mistreatment, dim despite her cunning and innocent by reason of inanity. When Filipinos fully turn against her during the People Power revolution of 1986, she is more mystified than crushed. “Why don’t you love me?” she sings.

(Read more)



(Via Emily Owens PR)

Barefoot Shakespeare Company




Written by Melissa Bell

Directed by Emily Gallagher


Presented as part of the 2023 Little Shakespeare Festival

August 3rd – August 19th at

UNDER St. Marks

Barefoot Shakespeare Company will present Lady Capulet written by Melissa Bell and directed by Emily Gallagher. The production will be presented as part of the 2023 Little Shakespeare Festival at UNDER St. Marks (94 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009) with performances on August 3 at 9pm and August 5 at 4pm and 9pm. Tickets ($25 in person; $20 streaming) are available for advance purchase at www.frigid.nycThe performance will run approximately 100 minutes. 

What caused the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets? This prequel to Romeo and Juliet follows the story of Rose from country girl to lady of Verona and explores the betrayal, revenge, and manipulations that set the houses of Capulet and Montague against one another in a time when the influence of family, money, power, and gender determine everything. Using evocative language, Lady Capulet asks large questions about women’s place in culture today through a Shakespearean lens.

Twice nominated for “Best Modern Update & Adaptation” in 2000 & 2021 by New York.

“Tantalizing … juicy” said, and Time Out said: “Melissa Bell reimagines the life of Juliet’s mother in the years before the events of Romeo & Juliet in this classical prequel.” 

The title role of Rose Capulet is played by Jianzi Colón-Soto, recently seen as young Sonia Sotomayor in Atlantic Theatre’s She Persisted, based on the stories by Chelsea Clinton. Ms Colón-Soto originated the role of Rose in Barefoot Shakespeare’s 2019 Central Park production. She is joined by the other originating players: Andrew Dunn, (Barefoot’s Titus); Preston Fox, (Off Broadway’s The Importance of Being Earnest); Jefferson Reardon, Fight Captain, (Proslogian On-Demand); Heather Sawyer (She Persisted) and Emily Thaler, Production Manager for Barefoot Shakespeare Company. Melanie Ryan Stage Manages, with Fight Direction by Robert Aronowitz, and Regina Renée Russell as Barefoot’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

LADY CAPULET, a Henley Rose Playwriting Competition Finalist, was written by Melissa Bell (Honored Finalist for the Women in the Arts & Media Coalition’s Collaboration Award 2019) and is directed by Emily Gallagher, Founder and Artistic Director of Barefoot Shakespeare Company, the producer of these performances. Original music by Graham Russell of Air Supply.

Barefoot Shakespeare Company strives to make the works of William Shakespeare accessible to everyone, with an eye towards modernization to reflect the world we currently live in, and our recent past to examine how we got here. We continue to try and educate both ourselves and our audiences on the histories and struggles of topics such as race, gender equality, politics, and self-expression with the Bard’s works as our baseline. We value our relationships with our audiences, and encourage them to participate in our productions, blurring the lines between spectator and participant. 

Photo: Jianzi Colon Soto as Rose and Preston Fox as Montague in the 2019 production (c) Emily Hewitt





(via France24, 7/14/2023)

We bring you a special edition from the 77th international theatre festival in the southern French city of Avignon, where change is in the air under its new Portuguese director Tiago Rodrigues. As the first non-French leader to take the reins of the festival, Rodrigues has brought in a majority of first-time performers and female directors, and introduced English as a guest language. One of the British artists joining the line-up for the first time this year is actor, director and playwright Tim Crouch. He sat down with FRANCE 24’s Alison Sargent to talk about his experimental work exploring grief, technology and the nature of performance.

Meanwhile, the festival’s opening night put social justice centre stage, with an adaptation of the 1973 documentary “Welfare” and a roving dance performance choreographed by French hip-hop pioneer Bintou Dembélé.

In addition to the official 44 shows, there are nearly 1,500 taking place in the fringe “Off” festival. FRANCE 24’s Natacha Milleret followed one young troupe as they made their debut at Avignon

Visit France24




(Chris Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/4; Photo: Divine … Stephen Jackman-Torkoff as Richard II. Photograph: David Hou.)

A disco king hits the dancefloor, Beatrice and Benedick’s romcom gets a feminist framing and Lear faces dystopia as the revered rep company returns in full force

Drive west of Toronto for over an hour, beyond a hamlet called Punkeydoodles Corners, and you reach the village of Shakespeare, with a pie shop and truck centre bearing the Bard’s name. Up the road lies Stratford, an affable town where Romeo Street leads you to the banks of the river Avon (pronounced, unlike its English cousin, with a short A).

Here, 70 years ago this month, the inaugural Stratford Shakespearean festival took place beneath a leaky canvas tent roof, with Alec Guinness holding court in Richard III and All’s Well That Ends Well, both directed by Tyrone Guthrie over a six-week season. It almost didn’t happen: a black hole in the finances meant an emergency meeting was held the day before Guinness set sail to determine whether he should bother making the journey.

The festival’s success gave Stratford, which was settled in 1832, a theatrical reputation to match its British namesake – an improbable achievement for this former railroad town, which is surrounded by farmland. Canada’s largest theatre festival, it now runs for more than half the year, with 13 productions staged in four different buildings in 2023, including the striking new Tom Patterson theatre, named after the journalist who founded the festival. Visitors who remember the early tent years are still returning, prompted – as is tradition here – to take their seats by a fanfare played live outside the Festival theatre. The musicians – with four herald trumpets and a parade snare drum – assemble to announce each performance there, as popular a local custom as the annual release of swans into the Avon.

Maev Beaty as Beatrice and Graham Abbey as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing at Stratford festival. Photograph: David Hou

You could, perhaps, be forgiven for expecting those shows to be something akin to ye olde heritage Shakespeare, preserved in aspic for tourists fitting a matinee around trips to the city’s smart eateries. But there are no mothballs in this season. Actor turned artistic director Antoni Cimolino, whose Stratford roles have included Romeo and Laertes, tells me they resist the idea of a “house” approach to productions. “If Shakespeare seems dusty and old, we haven’t done our jobs.”

Take the opening of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Chris Abraham and bookended by new scenes written by Erin Shields, known for previous feminist takes on King Lear and Paradise Lost. Staged on Julie Fox’s lush garden set, with succulents including outrageously phallic cacti, this comedy does not open with the usual back-slapping, macho banter about the “feats of a lion” in war. Instead, Maev Beaty’s Beatrice rises amid the audience, as Allison Edwards-Crewe’s Hero appears upstage before a mirror that resembles both a huge moon and a band of gold.

In a wry, softly saucy prologue, Beatrice invites us to consider the expectations faced by Hero specifically and by all women then and now. As well as providing ample satire – “it is exhausting to be innocent,” says Beatrice, with a witty rhyme about Hero needing to mute the strumming of her “private lute” – this is a canny way of ensuring we focus from the start on the inner life of a character whose reticence is all the more marked by the quicksilver exchanges between Benedick and Beatrice.

‘If Shakespeare seems dusty and old, we haven’t done our jobs’ … the Stratford Festival theatre. Photograph: Stratford Shakespeare festival/Richard Bain

Shields’s prologue is true to Beatrice’s wit and the spirit of Much Ado as, with the gentlest waft around her groin, she reminds us that “nothing” was once slang for vagina. The play unfolds with a lighting level that allows the audience to see each other, essential for some deft crowd work at the edges of the Festival theatre’s beloved thrust stage, with its pioneering design by Tanya Moiseiwitsch. The venue fits an audience of 1,800 but no one here is further than 65ft from the stage.

(Read more)