Shaking it up at the Southern Shakespeare Festival
by Alexandra Pushkin
William Shakespeare once said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players.” This is true, quite literally, for the participants of the Southern Shakespeare Festival, a part of the outdoor Shakespeare festival circuit held in Cascades Park. The festival breathes life into an age-old subject and gives mostly local actors — with some out-of-town guests — a chance to showcase their talents.
The Southern Shakespeare Festival was modeled after Joseph Papp’s “Free Shakespeare in the Park” concept that was birthed over 20 years ago. Yet the Southern Shakespeare Company — the company behind the festival — does more than simply provide audiences with performances of Shakespeare’s plays.
“People think of Shakespeare as old and dusty, so we sprinkle it with modern themes,” says Laura W. Johnson, Executive Director of the Southern Shakespeare Company.
Johnson explains that inserting the modern themes into the plays allows the company to reach more audiences and get more people involved in theater, whether on the stage or in the audience. Previous performances, Johnson recalls, involved a version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that was set in the ’60s and a version of “The Comedy of Errors” that was set at a 1950’s carnival.
The Southern Shakespeare Festival is nothing new to Tallahassee, having started in 1995. “It was a dream of two people, Dick Fallon and Michael Trout, who had the idea of bringing free Shakespeare to our city,” says Johnson.
Kleman Plaza housed the first festival, where, Johnson said, they erected a stage and performed for as many people as could fit in the venue. Over the years, the audience grew, and so did Kleman Plaza. With community buildings starting to pop up, the festival quickly outgrew its space.
“The Festival stopped performing at Kleman Plaza when they reached capacity,” says Johnson. Without adequate space, the festival would go on a 15-year hiatus. But with the opening of the newly renovated Cascades Park, life was breathed into the shows once more. And it was a whole new type of life.
The company saw great potential in the vast new stage. “When we first saw it, we were ecstatic, if not a bit intimated,” Johnson recalls. Accustomed to a much smaller space, bringing the festival to Cascades Park was as much of an advantage as it was a learning experience.
“We’ve grown more and learned how best to maximize that space. We have had Florida A&M University’s (scenic director) Ruben Arana-Downs working with us since the beginning, designing our sets. It has been thrilling.”
Always keeping partnership in mind, the Southern Shakespeare Company seeks to do more than just entertain. As the executive director, Johnson oversees both administrative and programmatic aspects of the company, and she believes in community partnerships and relationships. Of particular note, Johnson said, is the company’s newly established relationship with Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU) and their Artists in Bloom Festival, which brought actor and playwright Keith Hamilton Cobb and his one-man show, “American Moor,” to Tallahassee in January. » Merging theatre and education, “American Moor” explores race in America.
In addition, and in partnership with the Foundation for Leon County Schools, the Southern Shakespeare Company has once again invited Devon Glover, the “Sonnet Man,” to Tallahassee. His hip-hop musical performances of Shakespeare’s sonnets at our Leon County Schools and at Word of South and the Southern Shakespeare Festival will help the Southern Shakespeare Company to fulfill its education mission, which is to inspire both the young and the old through education in our area schools and community.
The Southern Shakespeare Company expects to become Tallahassee’s first Equity Theatre Company, affording local students/actors the opportunity to gain professional experience in performance, design, production and management.
“There really is no shortage of theatrical talent in Tallahassee,” Johnson says. “I feel so fortunate to have so much talent and dedication to the arts, here.”
December 21, 2016
Neil Coker, Democrat Staff Writer
For actor and writer Keith Hamilton Cobb, success didn’t come easily. Before breaking into TV with roles on shows like “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda” and “All My Children” (which earned him an Emmy nod), he struggled on the stage, a realm he’s revisiting with his one-man play “American Moor.”
In partnership with the Southern Shakespeare Company and FAMU’s Artists in Bloom Festival, next month Cobb will bring “American Moor” to Tallahassee audiences. It’s the story of a large, vocal African-American actor auditioning for the role of Othello for an unseen white director. It’s also an experience Cobb says he has lived through time and again.
“When I chose the profession, I was groomed for certain things and denied others. Bias is fairly blatant if you’re aware that it’s there,” he said. “It’s a piece about racial bias. Any kind of bias.”
Although to limit its scope to America’s racism problem is to shortchange its broader message.
“We go to these colleges and talk to these kids about this, and people across the sexual, racial, gender spectrum are moved by this piece. It’s really about being heard, needing that, that fundamental human need.”
Cobb wrote the first draft in a day and a half. Many drafts and several years later, “American Moor” has hit the road, touring colleges, regional theaters and playhouses. But he’s never had a consistent rehearsal space, a place to call home and let the piece grow.
It’s part of the reason he’s excited about his visit to Tallahassee. FAMU, he said, is the first institution to grant him a performance space for an entire week.
In writing, acting, or even talking about “American Moor,” Cobb emphasizes experiential living. Another goal of the work is “to talk across experiential barriers. Your experience is your experience, mine is mine, and therefore we have a difficult time talking across that barrier.
“As a black American man, I can’t separate that experience from a black American actor. (Theater) is ruled by all the things that dominate society at large. I’ve been living a great deal of this experience,” he said, noting the parallels between himself and the central character he embodies onstage.
Also mentioned were the parallels between Cobb’s character and Othello himself, a character traditionally conveyed as a noble and composed person who unravels over the course of the play. It’s a fitting correlation, for the play has almost always been a outside-looking-in view of a black “other,” rather than an internal reflection coming from the heart of the black actor.
This is something he says makes people go quite literally insane.
“What that causes emotionally, internally, is I think a level of psychosis. If we repress and deny our authentic selves, we go crazy. For all intents and purposes, it’s a fine lovely man having a breakdown.”
In a nutshell, the play also becomes the question of “What makes Othello Othello?”
Following each performance, a talkback session is held. These, Cobb said, tends to reach people on “a very visceral level.”
“The first production of this play I ever did, the first person to stand up was a 15-year-old Jewish girl. She said, ‘This play is about me.’ That’s how I knew I had something,” he said.
Reaching out to demographics beyond his own became a priority.
“This play is about the conversations no one has, especially about race. If we’re going to do this play, then we need to have time to talk about it.“
But the play is also about the English language and how we use it to persuade others. To up-and-coming actors and those receiving their education, Cobb has a few words of advice: “Everyone who studies theater needs to work on play writing. We’re running out of stuff.”
And to black theater students specifically, his words have a heightened sense of imperative.
“I tell them first what I tell all theater students. If this is your life choice, you feel it in you like anything else, like being gay or black. You have to honor what you are. Perhaps the universe will support you in that.
“But I don’t necessarily believe that the universe will allow you to succeed. But it’s not a done deal, and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t realize your dreams. It’s a hell of a lot easier to do almost anything than to make it in this business.
“When I get to black students, I say you take that, but multiply it by a 100. Be ready. The opportunity will come and you must be ready.”
In the end, the core of “American Moor” is simply about speaking to truth, which is the essence of drama itself.
“So much of the truth has been sucked out of our culture, this uber-capitalist culture where everything is ruled by money and everything must be monetized,” he said. “American theater needs a violent separation from capitalism. We have to get back to the truth.”
On the rise of terminology such as “post-truth,” Cobb supposes that the phrase suits the times.
“I think the word is very descriptive, a great word to describe what’s going on,” he said. “This idea that we’ve gotten beyond any real ability to discern what is real and what is not. We do not teach our children critical thinking, we don’t teach them tools of honest self-assessment. … There needs to be a leveling or our cumulative spiritual experiences. Sometimes we need a cataclysm to wake people up. For me, this election was a cataclysm.”
And Cobb doesn’t need a big budget or ostentatious display to make his point.
“’American Moor’ is a bare stage with four chairs. You need to do that. Work that matters, speaking from your heart, from your soul,” he said.
It’s something that gets lost even in something as progressive as Broadway’s mega-hit “Hamilton.”
“’Hamilton’ is an interesting case,” he said. “I think the genius of ‘Hamilton’ is 100-percent real and needs to be praised forever. It’s extraordinary and has changed the game. It has shown the industry, ‘Wow, there is something besides ‘Oklahoma!’ or ‘The Lion King.’
“That said, the fact that nobody without $400 can get in is ridiculous. All these theater majors, people who should be getting to see this work and see how to do it themselves, they don’t get to see it. It gets co-opted by this corporate structure.”
So it’s all the more important, he believes, that as many people as possible have the opportunity to see his own play.
“By and large, I work with very poorly trained actors, very poorly trained directors who can’t assess the intent of Shakespeare. They have an audience that has not been trained to assess the material. They pay $125 for a ticket, they cry, they go home, and they just accept it. We have lost our compass. We have lost our sense of right and wrong, integrity and lack of integrity. That’s a dark place,” he said.
It’s no surprise then that he describes “American Moor” as the most important work he’s ever done.
“I hope that, if nothing else, (it) has an innate integrity that crosses all of the sexual, racial, age and gender lines.”
by Mary Oglesby
Youth Program Director
Thomasville Center for the Arts
The Center is delighted to introduce our newest theatre arts program partner, Southern Shakespeare Company. They come to us from Tallahassee bringing with them a remarkable wealth of theatre experience that they are excited to share with us this fall with a full line up of youth theatre art classes for ages 4-15 years.
Southern Shakespeare Company will be Shakin’ it Up! in Thomasville with our students by providing a supportive environment where young artists will gain self-confidence through improvisational games and enhancing their acting skills by exploring the four main acting styles of Stanislavsky and Method, as well as Brechtian and Meisner. Characterization and posture will be taught, along with breathing, voice, and accent work, leading to a grounded and confident stage presence.
Our young artists will also become familiar with the requirements needed to stage a theatrical production, from rehearsing, to staging; from lighting to sound; and set design and costuming.
During the fall semester, each group will study and rehearse scenes from Romeo and Juliet, leading to a holiday performance of this timeless Shakespeare classic.
The spring semester will see each class begin to research and prepare for a performance of As You Like It during the Southern Shakespeare May 12-14 Festival weekend at Cascades Park in Tallahassee with opportunities to work with cast members of the mainstage production of As You Like It with the Thomasville Center for the Arts young artist dress rehearsal in Thomasville for family and friends to enjoy.
The teachers are Phil Croton and Robin Jackson. To learn more about these terrific instructors, visit http://southernshakespearefestival.org/about-us/staff.
To register for 2016-2017 Art in the Afternoon Southern Shakespeare Shake It Up! Theatre Arts Classes, click LINK below:
2016-2017 REGISTRATION Shake It Up! Drama Classes:
Theatre Arts Class Schedule:
Junior 1 • Ages 4-5 • Tuesday • 3:30-4:15 pm
Junior 2 • Ages 6-7 • Tuesday • 4:30-5:30 pm
Apprentice • Ages 8-10 • Thursday • 3:30-5:00 pm
Seniors • Ages 11-15 • Thursday • 3:30-5:30 pm
July 6, 2016
Amanda Karioth Thompson,
Council on Culture & Arts
After a long hiatus, the Southern Shakespeare Company is back and better than ever. What began more than 20 years ago as a Shakespeare festival in Kleman Plaza has been resurrected as an organization that offers not only a free annual festival but also much more. Over the past three years, educational programming has been developed including workshops, classroom experiences, a sonnet contest, and performance opportunities for youngsters. This year marked the first summer camp called Damsels, Daggers, & Death.
Campers ranged from kindergarteners to teens and were grouped into separate elementary, middle, and high school camps. During the week-long sessions, they all got the opportunity to practice acting skills, build stage presence, play improvisational games, and explore one of the Bard’s most beloved plays,”Romeo and Juliet.” The elementary school participants were especially excited to delve into the Elizabethan era.
Nine-year old Caroline Cox was drawn to this camp because she likes “learning about Shakespeare and how he puts the words together.” Ellie Leeman, also 9, agreed and said, “I like that he’s poetic in everything he does.”
As much poet as playwright, Shakespeare is well known for his sonnets. Campers analyzed Sonnet 18 which concludes with “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” Caroline was particularly moved by this sentiment and explained: “It’s about poetry and if men can breathe and eyes can see, then people can keep reading it over the years, decades and centuries so the poetry is still alive if we’re alive.”
Revelations like this were common among campers who eagerly took in Shakespeare’s 400-year-old ideas and related them back to their own, modern lives. After reading and reinterpreting “Romeo and Juliet,” a play fraught with conflict, middle school campers, Danielle Johnson, 11 and Rylee Bunton, 12 took away an important lesson about mediating disputes. “You don’t always have to make things violent,” said Danielle, “you can listen to other people and see what they feel.” Rylee added “you can try and find better ways to resolve things.”
These are exactly the kinds of messages that Phil Croton, education and outreach director, hopes the campers will take away. “The kids really are getting into Shakespeare and they do appreciate that he’s not a dusty old author. I’m just amazed at some of their knowledge and their understanding, even at this level of elementary school and kindergarten children.”
Croton recounted a story about a camp theater game. Participants pretended to be any fictional character and gave clues to the others. Caroline’s clue was that she was a female character from “Romeo and Juliet.” “I was guessing, is it Juliet, is it Lady Montague, on and on, nope, nope, nope. I’ve been doing this for years and there is no other female character. I was thinking you’ve got the wrong play.” Caroline revealed that she was Rosaline, a character whom the audience never sees or hears. “Yep, 50 years of Shakespeare and I’m undone by a fourth-grader,” Croton quipped.
Though bested every now and then, Croton has a deep knowledge and understanding of the theater in general and Shakespeare in particular. His parents enrolled him in drama school soon after his stage debut in a school play at age 11. A Londoner, he was cast in West End and BBC productions as a child. Though he worked in banking for years, theater was his first love and he found his way back to it, teaching at the Theatre Royal in the UK.
It might seem an ambitious goal to introduce Shakespearean works to very young children, and Croton understands why. “It’s the language that gets in the way. People think it’s too hard but people who went to see Shakespeare in his own day couldn’t even understand it. He made up 500 words.”
Croton gave an example: “That the thing with a handle on it that you put your clothes in, he called it luggage. No one had ever heard the word before. So to a 7-year-old or a 5-year-old, you don’t have to know or understand every word, you have to let it flow over you.”
There are universal truths within Shakespeare’s work that are timeless and ageless. The language isn’t a barrier, but a bridge. “He talks about love, jealously, hatred and power and those are things that children can understand.” By encouraging youngsters to relate to the material, interpret its meaning, and find themselves within the words, Croton knows that the work will live on, just like in Sonnet 18.
Amanda Karioth Thompson is the Education and Exhibitions Director for the Council on Culture & Arts. COCA is the capital area’s umbrella agency for arts and culture (www.tallahasseearts.org).
May 5, 2016
Democrat Staff Writer
When Carole Curry got to the podium to accept the 2016 Jefferson Award for Public Service, she had to speak through some tears of joy. As she approached the stage, the hundreds gathered in Florida State’s University Center Club ballroom were on their feet applauding.
Curry has been a mentor to the same special needs student, Joshua, for more than six years. She began as his mentor when he was about six years old and has made the transition with him to different schools. She recently began volunteering at Griffin Middle School, where he now attends. Continue reading
April 16, 2016
Special to the Democrat
Back in the 1990s, during the Southern Shakespeare Festival, we took our play’s director and principle actors into a prison in Blountstown and provided a panel discussion of our current play. We spent the better part of a day there and found the prison inmates to be well-groomed and attentive.
After every visit to the prison, Southern Shakespeare received letters of thanks from those inmates. The ones we liked the best, the ones that brought tears to our eyes, were the ones whose writers told us of their passion for Shakespeare now, and how they wished they had encountered the Bard when they were younger, before they’d made the mistakes in life that landed them with long prison sentences.
April 13, 2016
Behold ye the finalists in Southern Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 Sonnet Contest. Choose your favorite, then come to the festival on Saturday to see which are the winners. Continue reading
March 31, 2016
Mark Hinson and Randi Atwood,
“If the skin were parchment and the blows you gave were ink/ Your own handwriting would tell you what I think.”
That loaded couplet is taken from William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” It is spoken by a mistreated slave named Ephesian Dromio. Shakespeare was always great with a biting comeback or a pithy quote. Continue reading
March 31, 2016
I am not shy about my passion for the outdoors. When it comes to hiking, running, cycling or paddling in Leon County, count me in. Few places offer more scenic and fulfilling outdoor experiences. But spring festival season adds another level of outdoor fun, so be an ambassador and invite friends and relatives to enjoy it with you.
Floridians brag about glorious weather, especially during the winter. Florida tourism promoters even call the winter “bragging season,” showcasing photos of sunny landscapes, palm trees and tropical drinks to northern neighbors who suffer with piles of snow and gloomy days. We have our own “bragging season” – it’s spring and there’s nothing quite like it anywhere in Florida. Continue reading
March 23, 2016
Words. Words. Words.
When Polonius asks Hamlet what he’s reading in a seeming fit of bewildered distracted madness, Hamlet response is simple:
“Words. Words. Words.”
When reading Shakespeare’s words, some feel as if they’re reading Greek. Some feel Shakespeare’s poems are a complex, undecipherable code. But that’s all they are – words! Continue reading
Shakespeare’s sonnets, 154 in all, demonstrate his mastery of the English language in a way that some of us might appreciate, if not fully understand, and perhaps even want to imitate.
With this in mind, the Southern Shakespeare Company, in partnership with the Tallahassee Democrat and Sachs Media Group, held our SECOND ANNUAL SONNET CONTEST.
We had over 100 submissions and all of our finalists were invited to participate in our Festival on Saturday evening and the winning sonnets were read by The Sonnet Man, Devon Glover.
THE SONNET CONTEST 2016 WINNERS WERE:
“For Romance” by Jake Cooper
I went to a dance once upon a time.
Although the boys and girls were separate,
To not dance with a girl would be a crime.
Like a shining light I saw my soulmate.
I went to a dance once upon a time,
and then I confidently went to her.
But then I suddenly stopped on a dime.
I went white from my feet to my shoulder.
I went to a dance once upon a time,
and someone danced with the girl of my dreams.
Then I realized, my mood began to climb,
She is not as important as she seems.
I went to a dance, once upon a time.
I discovered that now was not the time.
“Immersion of Love” by Lexi O’Rourke
Calm collected waves, build up emotions
Riptide, taking in pieces of the world
Intriguing thrills, wandering the ocean
The current of movement, sea drifts are curled
Lovers’ footprints, full of past memories
Sand between their toe gaps, a tingling warmth
Tranquil and serene; free of enemies
Days pass leisurely, affection put forth
Heated rays of the sun tickle their backs
The smell of sea salt brings serenity
Shells embraced in the sand of the shore, cracked
The peaceful creatures, their own entities
Bundled feelings of the waves pass through souls
Love of these souls, unable to control
“To Players And Their Parts”
by Dana Gower
The world, and life, continue stage by stage,
And wond’rous parts are writ for all to play.
But there remain with us in ev’ry age
Those which are still loved most until this day.
The child who creeps unwillingly to school,
The lovers lost within each others’ eyes,
And then the kings who over others rule,
And, at the last, the fool who’s really wise.
These roles, these wells, passed on for us to fill,
To reinvent in ways as we think best,
Which we create as if by force of will,
And lay, side by the side, with all the rest.
From (missing) head to toe we keep these parts,
Held tightly always closest to our hearts.
Randi Atwood is the Platform Editor for the Tallahassee Democrat. She is a lover of theater in general and has been a Shakespeare fan ever since she had one line in “Macbeth” at camp when she was 9.
Devon Glover is a teacher, poet, rapper, from Brooklyn New York. He performs Shakespeare’s Sonnets in a dynamic way through Hip-Hop in schools, universities and theaters to young audiences nationally and abroad. The Sonnet Man has appeared on The Today Show, MTVAct, Shakespeare Festivals in Stratford Ontario and Stratford-upon-Avon, and won The L.A. Times Book Award for Inspirational Poetry. The recent release of his debut video “Hip-Hop Hamlet” was selected for the Shakespeare Short Film Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon. For more information, visit www.SonnetMan.com.
Dr. Molly Hand teaches English at Florida State University, where she is the Entrepreneur in Residence in editing and publishing. She holds a Ph.D. in English Renaissance literature and has published articles and book chapters on Renaissance literature and culture. She is currently working on a book chapter, “Animals, the Devil, and the Sacred in Early Modern English Culture,” to appear in the forthcoming collection Animals and Animality in the Literary Field (Cambridge University Press), which she is also co-editing.
We really are takin’ it on the road! The historic Dixie Theater in Apalachicola will host two encore performances of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) on Thursday, March 10 & Friday, March 11 at 8 pm.
If you missed seeing this wildly hilarious show when it was performed at Monticello Opera House, Goodwood Museum and Garden, and the Maguire Center at Westminster Oaks, maybe a night out in Apalach is in the folios for you.
This high-energy romp through all of Shakespeare’s plays has been around since 1987, when the Reduced Shakespeare Company cooked it up, and our rendition has the added benefit of actors experienced in the Bard’s words and improvisation. We have two casts, so each performance is different, but always delightful.
You can make reservations by calling the Dixie Theater at (850) 653-3200, or you can purchase tickets at http://southernshakespearefestival.org/touring-company.
Here is sample of what you might see:
Come join us in Downtown Tallahassee for this FREE street party event in celebration of New Years Eve 2016!
The event will include live music by the Mary and Aaron Band, Wanderfoot, and the New 76ers on the main stage, food trucks, street performers, guest DJ’s, the Fun 4 Tally Kids Family Zone, and a firework show at midnight to celebrate the new year. The event is free and open to all ages, and proceeds from the alcohol sales will benefit Southern Shakespeare. The party begins at 7pm, see you there, Downtowners!
WHEN: Thursday, December 31, 2015 from 7:00 PM to 12:00 AM (EST)
WHERE: Adams Street Commons
To create the best event, we’ve rounded up six of Tallahassee’s top chefs to showcase a gourmet sampling to pair with a wine from one of our six wine distributors. The Edison provides the perfect blend of Tallahassee history and contemporary finishes. From aperitif to dessert, our distributors will make sure your glass is decadently decanted and your plate is full of samples from Tallahassee’s best.
WHEN: Saturday, January 30, 2016 from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM (EST)
WHERE: The Edison – 470 Suwannee Street Tallahassee, FL 32301 – View Map