College of Arts and Science Theater is putting on its first Shakespeare production in the 20 years since its inception. The club, which just won a 2019 President’s Service Award, is expanding its horizons and working through new challenges.
Director Josh Siegel, a CAS senior studying Journalism and Anthropology, is excited to work on a Shakespeare show before he graduates.
“I had this kooky English teacher who just loved Shakespeare and made me love Shakespeare,” he said. “Then I played Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. I’ve been wanting to get back into it in college.”
After directing one of the CAST one-acts in the fall of his sophomore year, Siegel joined the e-board in the spring and has been involved on the production level ever since. As a senior this year, it was his job, alongside other senior members of the e-board, to choose the main stage production. He felt it was time for him to return to Shakespeare and that working on a show like “The Tempest” would provide an opportunity for the club to step outside of its comfort zone.
Gallatin first-year Petra McGregor, who plays Boatswain, also discovered her love for Shakespeare back in high school.
“I played Bottom in ‘Midsummer’ and that’s where I realized how much fun Shakespeare could be,” she said. “Now I love it.”
In regard to casting, Siegel emphasizes that they were just looking for people who fit each role, regardless of gender.
“Prospero is played by Sara Rhuda; we just changed the name to Prospera,” he said, “We definitely wanted to bring more women into this play that doesn’t have a lot of women.”
At rehearsal on Friday, a week before opening night, the cast worked to put the final touches on everything and just “go over the scenes as much as we can to make sure that everything is sharp,” Siegel said. The actors were not in full costume, but did wear capes and crowns over their normal clothing to ensure they would be used to moving in these mobility-limiting pieces. At the end of the run, Siegel gave brief notes.
“This is the last day you’ll be able to call ‘line,’ so make sure you’re off book for next rehearsal,” he told the cast. “Otherwise you’ll have to make up Shakespeare.”
Siegel emphasized that working with Shakespeare poses certain challenges but also provides opportunities for deeper inquiry than usual into the text of the play itself.
“Often, actors will have questions about what particular words mean or how you pronounce a certain word,” he said. “We’ll all take pause look it up together as a cast, and a lot of the time it’s pretty funny, especially if it’s a terrible entendre or a funny insult. It kind of brightens up rehearsals.”
McGregor echoes this sentiment, recalling a line that reads, “I shall not fear fly-blowing.” “No one knew what ‘fly-blowing’ meant,” she said, laughing. “Apparently it’s this thing where flies deposit larvae.”
Even now, new questions arise.
“The moment between you and Gonzalo was really good today,” Siegel tells Rhuda during notes, prompting another cast member to ask, “Wait — what’s their history again?”
Moments like this allow the cast to come together and review key moments of the text before returning the rehearsal.
“What I really like about CAST is that there is a mix of actors who have been around the block for a while and also people who are just trying it out and just want to do a fun Shakespeare play and it’s like their second production ever,” Siegel said. “There’s a mix and we all learn from each other and it’s a great environment.”
It’s an exciting moment for the club, which attracts actors not only from CAS but across schools. In rehearsal, the camaraderie between the cast members is palpable. As they work through the complexities of the text together, they come to new realizations about their characters, the show and how they can illuminate the classic text in a contemporary context.
“The Tempest” will be performed on April 26 to 28 at 19 W. Fourth St., Room 101.
A version of this article appears in the Monday, April 22, 2019, print edition. Email Julie Goldberg at [email protected]