DePriest: The Edison: Could it destroy our way of life


by Jennings DePriest,
My View

 
The Edison is appropriately named, because much like Thomas Edison built his empire on the back of Elon Musk, the inventor of Tesla, Adam Corey is building his empire on the back of the Tallahassee taxpayer. Mr. Corey may have some things to say as the owner of The Edison, but as a taxpaying citizen of this fine city, so do I.

Tallahassee is polluted with college students, and independent, trendy restaurants will only make matters worse.

What will happen when Florida State and FAMU students start enjoying the city? What if they realize that The Edison, Canopy Road Café, Masa, Table 23 and Proof only exist in Tallahassee? They might stay after graduation to find jobs, buy homes and raise families!

Instead of only dealing with these youth for the four to seven years it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree, we could be stuck with them for good. Don’t be fooled by Mr. Corey’s column – The Edison is only the beginning of a vicious cycle of epicurean improvement that will forever change the city we know and love. To allow The Edison’s continued existence is to doom Tallahassee to a future of improved property values and Millennial overrun.

To the City Commission’s front of “improving the park,” I say this: Do you really want to live in a city that provides space for the public to experience the arts free of charge?

The city not only allowed the masses to see “As You Like It” without paying a penny, they presented the play under the name of the illiterate actor, William Shakespeare, instead of attributing the work to its proper scribe, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. What will become of literature and the theater if we continue promoting plagiarism and allowing fine arts to be mixed with carnival food?

If damage to our city doesn’t move you, I implore you to consider the effects on other communities. What will become of Atlanta when students stop making their post-grad pilgrimage to “the city”?

How will our neighbors to the north survive if the we selfishly keep our money in the community instead of taking our dining dollars to Thomasville? How will Liam’s and Chophouse survive if we patronize The Edison? As a community, we must think about more than our gluttonous desires for Moroccan lamb and consider the burden we place on others when we vainly seek to compete with our neighbors.

At its very core, The Edison is just another example of Tallahassee’s pervasive liberal agenda.

When parents go to The Edison to enjoy a night away from their children, it rips apart the family and leaves children to be raised by the leviathan state. Even the owner’s rebuttal spits in the face of American work ethic.

Mr. Corey doesn’t seem to think one should rent a house without electricity, but in the America I love, we call that pulling yourself up by your bootstraps – something a self-made millionaire like Adam Corey would know nothing about.


article courtesy of Tallahassee Democrat: http://www.tallahassee.com/story/opinion/2017/05/22/depriest-edison-destroy-way-life/102009694/

Shakespeare goes Roaring Twenties in inventive ‘As You Like It’


by Neil Coker,
Democrat Staff Writer

 

Rosalind (Laura W. Johnson) enjoys playing
with Touchstone (Devon Glover) and her cousin Celia
(Jessica Lowe-Minor) in “As You Like It.”
(Photo: Bob O’Lary)

Whenever a train goes by, expect the cast of “As You Like It” to put the “shake” in “Shakespeare” and break out into a rousing Charleston. The comedy, performed outdoors at Cascades Park, is the centerpiece of this year’s Southern Shakespeare Festival. This time, the company swaps Renaissance-era France for Prohibition-era Chicago.

“As You Like It” ranks among the crowdpleasers written by the Bard. It’s rife with physical humor, dirty wordplay (blame Bill S. for inventing the word “slut”), and some of his most famous lines (more on that later). But until now, I don’t know that it’s been accompanied by a jazz band.

In answering whether the 1920s facelift works for the material or serves nothing but gimmickry, the added musical flourish, lavish costumes, and decadent setting seems to point to the former. If it only does one thing, this update gives the work smashing new life.

Like other Shakespearean plays, even the comedies have tragic openings. Duke Frederick takes over the land and banishes his brother Duke Senior (both played by Terry Wells) and all his bannermen. The banished Duke’s daughter Rosalind (Laura Johnson) gets a pass due to being the best friend of his daughter Celia (Jessica Lowe-Minor). Until she doesn’t.

She too is banished, and chooses exile in the Forest of Arden where she’s joined by Celia and the court fool Touchstone (‘Sonnet Man’ Devon Glover). And at this point, it wouldn’t be Shakespeare if she didn’t don male apparel and take on a new identity.

Meanwhile, a young hunk named Orlando (Anthony Coons) has fallen in love with Rosalind at first sight but has bigger immediate worries as he’s ejected from the family estate by his brother Oliver (Kevin Carr.) He finds himself in Arden as well and carves bad poetry about Rosalind into the trees.

The rest of the exiled court are revealed to be vibrant souls. Among these are the gloomy observer Jacques (played by Philip Croton, who brilliantly delivers the “All the world’s a stage” monologue, among others) and musician Amiens (Jake Armstrong, who also brilliantly sings a tune about what it’s like “Under the Greenwood Tree”). The Bard’s words, set to music, create a scene where the two share a duet together. It’s charming.

Then there are the country folk who live in the forest. There’s Corin (Duncan Hoehn), more or less an indentured servant whom Rosalind and Celia first encounter. There’s also the shepherdess Phoebe (an adorable Robin Jackson) and Silvius (Josh Weinstein), who is in love with her. But Phoebe wants “Ganymede,” Rosalind in disguise.

Not to be out-coupled, we also meet another shepherdess, Audrey (Miranda Wonder) who wins the heart of Touchstone following a conversation on the merits of her “sluttishness.” Touchstone hastily runs off with her to marry.

When Rosalind encounters Orlando, aware of his love poems and in love with him the same, she, as “Ganymede,” attempts to counsel him on how to rid himself of said love, while goading him to act out his feelings for Rosalind with “him” in her place. You’d think an honest, un-protracted explanation could have expedited the process for her, but then if things were reasonable it wouldn’t be Shakespeare, would it?

So goes most of the play, and such complaints, like the roundabout decisions made by its characters for the plot’s convenience, may be why it’s been the recipient of literary criticism and subject of much discussion historically. But what’s clear from its past, countlessly revived for the stage and adapted for the screen, is that the general public loves them some “As You Like It.”

The costumes and scenery may generate a compelling image, but with Shakespeare, none of that matters if the acting isn’t good. Fortunately, this may be the most well-acted run that the revived Shakespeare festival has had yet.

Its leads are solid; reliable. Coons as Orlando has an impassioned intensity in his love for Rosalind and Johnson, as Rosalind, has such a strong grip on her role that she effectively drives the show. Her closing epilogue is among the finest I’ve ever seen. From what I saw at Wednesday night’s dress rehearsal, the ensemble as a whole excelled in alternating between the meter typical to Shakespeare’s writing and the large of amount of prose atypical to it.

Director Lanny Thomas’ production aims for excellence. With only a few kinks left to work out after Wednesday, the festival’s focus appears on its way to achieving that. A well-suited cast, musical backbone, and bold repurposed setting promise a weekend of Shakespeare like it’s never been seen before.

The show is only the festival’s main course. There will also be performances from other groups like Theater with a Mission, Charleston dance lessons for Tallahassee Democrat Insiders (have to make the most of those train breaks), food trucks, a beer garden, children’s area, and more. Check the Southern Shakespeare group’s website for more details.

Even with the 1920s makeover, performing “As You Like It” outdoors creates a portal to a time when that was the standard for Shakespearean theater. The Capital City Amphitheater may not be the Globe, but it’s a serviceable substitute as far as tradition is concerned. What may be the Southern Shakespeare Festival’s crowning achievement is that it presents this experience to the public completely free of charge. For live theater, it’s a price that can’t be beaten. Bring bug spray.


article courtesy of Tallahassee Democrat: http://www.tallahassee.com/story/entertainment/2017/05/11/shakespeare-goes-roaring-twenties-inventive-you-like/101551470/

‘Sonnet Man’ turns Shakespeare’s rhymes into rap

Devon Glover, aka Sonnet Man, performs Shakespeare’s sonnets and soliloquies verbatim, set to hip-hop music, and then translates those words into our modern language. (Photo: Mark Williamson/Stratford Herald)

TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT 

SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT

How does a guy growing up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn with limited resources become a globe-trotting performer? Determination and Shakespeare, of course. 

Devon Glover (a.k.a. The Sonnet Man) was rapping when he was still at the Boys and Girls High School in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood. Glover was good at math, and with the help of the principal at Boys and Girls, was able to get into Ithaca College in upstate New York on a scholarship to study computer science. 

But Devon kept on rapping, partially to make ends meet. He appeared on Ithaca College’s student-run television station, on the radio, for the football team, and in clubs in and around Ithaca. 

The town itself was fairly liberal about racial issues, but the campus (with African-Americans totaling only 3% of the student body) was less lenient. In response, an ever-positive Glover turned to teaching children, both in public schools and privately. He found his niche, changed his major to math education, and being in the classroom is still one of his favorite places to be. 

But fate would call on him serendipitously when he was back in Brooklyn. It was a woman: Melissa Guttman. 

Guttman worked with Arje Shaw, a Broadway producer and director best known for “The Gathering.” Shaw had a pet project of setting Shakespeare’s sonnets to music, and had tried using jazz, but wasn’t satisfied with the results. Enter Devon. The three worked closely together in the studio and Sonnet Man was born. 

Since those early days, Glover has been working steadily. He was featured on “The Today Show,” MSNBC, BBC and NPR, and at Shakespeare Festivals all over the world. His debut video, “Hip-Hop Hamlet,” was selected for the Shakespeare Short Film Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon. Then there was the Sonnet Marathon, where Glover rapped all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets in succession, in the United States, United Kingdom, and Morocco, as part of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday celebrations. 

Glover has other exciting projects in the wings. He will be writing a screenplay about the Briggs vs. Elliot Supreme Court case (the first of five cases that collectively became known as Brown v. Board of Education) that challenged segregation of public schools in South Carolina. He will also be working on a rap version of Romeo and Juliet, as well as a children’s book. 

Glover appeared on the Southern Shakespeare Festival stage in 2015 and 2016, and continues to teach intensives in Leon County Schools. He is also a Guest Artist teaching at the Thomasville Center for the Arts. In addition, he will be playing Touchstone in this year’s production of “As You Like It,” and will read the winning sonnets during the Sonnet Contest presentation on Saturday, May 13. 

IF YOU GO
What: Southern Shakespeare Festival presents “As You Like It” 
When: 8 p.m. Friday, May 12, and Saturday, May 13; 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 14
Where: Capital City Amphitheater/Cascades Park, 1001 South Gadsden Street
Cost: Free 
http://www.tallahassee.com/story/entertainment/2017/05/09/sonnet-man-turns-shakespeares-rhymes-into-rap/101474352//

Terry Wells relishes playing two roles in ‘As You Like It’

Terry Wells playing Freud in “Freud’s Last Session: in Orlando. Wells has two roles in the Southern Shakespeare production of “As You Like it.” Photo: Courtesy of Terry Wells)

TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT 

Amanda Sieradzki, Council on Culture & Arts

The third time’s the charm for actor Terry Wells, whose appearance in the Southern Shakespeare Company’s production of “As You Like It” will be his third time performing in the play over the length of his career. During this May’s Southern Shakespeare Festival in Cascades Park, Wells will appear as two characters, Duke Frederick and Duke Senior. Both differ greatly from his previous roles in the comedy — his first time as Adam at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in the late ’90s, and the second time as Jacques during one of his final performances in Toronto before returning to Tallahassee. 

As an actor, Wells has been delighted to work with many talented directors, and considers Canadian director Rod Cebellos to be a prominent mentor as he cast Wells in many diverse and challenging roles. With every project and play, Wells appreciates traversing different worlds, and the customs, dynamics and behaviors of each character he’s given the chance to embody. Wells has been particularly drawn to classics, the language of the bard both striking and enticing him. His favorite roles in Shakespeare have included Jacques from “As You Like It,” Feste in “Twelfth Night,” and Lavatch in “All’s Well That Ends Well.”  

“Levatch was just a sweet guy to play, and Jacques was such a philosophical, melancholy, and strange kind of guy,” said Wells. “Feste was really fun because he had some great songs that I got to sing, which I don’t normally do. I was also given the opportunity to go nuts with the pranks his character pulls, and I enjoyed exploring that side of my personality.” 

No matter the play or role, Wells always appreciates a challenge. He found just that in two recent shows, playing Sigmund Freud in “Freud’s Last Session” and performing in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” with a Sarasota theater troupe. Both plays discussed and brought to light everything from faith and prejudice to good and evil. 

“I like to work on something with some meat to it,” says Wells. “I love things that are well written with complex language too which is why I’m inspired by the chance to do something from the classics. These texts have survived 400 years and will possibly be around another 400 years or more.” 

Tallahassee is Wells’ childhood stomping ground and where his passion for the theater was cultivated. An active thespian in Leon High School’s theater group and musicals, he graduated from Florida State University’s theater program during Dr. Richard Fallon’s tenure. His English teacher, Ms. Clear, at Raa Middle School, first stoked his interest in theater during their readings of the classics, and Wells was thrust onstage in a myriad of roles by mentor Ray Kickliter, Leon High School’s former choral and musical director. 

Post-graduation, Wells attended the University of Alabama for his MFA and spent the subsequent years traveling and performing as an Equity actor throughout the country. He returned to his hometown just shy of a decade ago and continues to be inspired by the city’s flourishing arts scene. He’s excited to be participating and preparing with the Southern Shakespeare Company and says the secret to working with a centuries-old text like “As You Like It” can be summed up in two strategies. 

“You have to understand every word that the character says,” states Wells. “I worked with a director once whose advice was to sit down with your script and the Oxford English dictionary and look up every word that you say, especially what the word meant at that time because meanings of words change. The other is to study the verse and the rhythm of it and make sure that you’re speaking it properly and figure out how your character is relating to other people.” 

For his upcoming roles as dueling dukes, he is practicing differentiating their delivery — many changes are as subtle as the way they walk versus the rhythms in which they speak. Wells is also looking forward to the company’s unique take on the play which will set the work in 1920s Chicago and feature original music by local Tallahassee musician Steve Hodges. In addition to the colorful flapper-inspired costumes, Wells says audiences can look forward to “a spectacle of music and dance” reminiscent of that era, including the Charleston, as well as the tomfoolery and mischief that is so markedly Shakespeare. 

“It’s a fun show,” smiles Wells. “There’s a long segment of courting and misconceptions of who people are that is very funny as Celia and Rosalind decide that one of them will be disguised as a boy so they’ll be safer wandering around the Forest of Arden. There are lots of puns and wordplay off of that.” 

Ultimately, Wells believes Shakespeare’s staying power in the cultural lexicon is a direct result of its truth-telling of human nature despite modernization or changes in circumstances or settings. While getting over the language may be the most readily apparent hurdle for some audiences, Wells says that attendees should trust their instincts and allow the actors to get them over the gaps they may not know. 

“The real reward is when you are totally in that moment, and you lose most of your awareness of the audience, the lights, and the sound, and are focused on the other people onstage with you,” says Wells. “That’s a rare gift and when that happens it’s wonderful…it becomes crystal in your mind.”

In fact, the most satisfying aspect of acting for Wells is when all of the above comes together — letting go of any insecurities or doubts, he relies on the talent and support of his cast mates to create something larger than themselves on the stage, and command the audience through an experience like no other, always in search of those moments of “aliveness.” 

“If you go back and you read plays from that period by other playwrights, you’ll see the characters are not as alive as Shakespeare’s were,” says Wells. “Can you think of any better depiction of young, crazy, obsessive love than in Romeo and Juliet? I think they give us such a picture of what human life is like.”

Amanda Sieradzki is the feature writer for the Council on Culture & Arts. COCA is the capital area’s umbrella agency for arts and culture (www.tallahasseearts.org).

IF YOU GO
What: Southern Shakespeare Festival presents “As You Like It” 
When: 8 p.m. Friday, May 12, and Saturday, May 13; 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 14
Where: Capital City Amphitheater/Cascades Park, 1001 South Gadsden Street
Cost: Free 
http://www.tallahassee.com/story/life/2017/05/06/terry-wells-relishes-playing-two-roles-you-like/101314750/

The Bard abides: Shakespeare does the Charleston

TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT
Marina Brown, Democrat correspondent

Josh Weinstein practices his dance steps for the “As You Like It” performance scheduled for the Southern Shakespeare Festival at Cascades Park on May 12-14 2017.
(Photo: Joe Rondone/Democrat)

Never think that the place you live, the place with the squabbling politicians and the challenged airport, is a Southern backwater without enough culture to go around. Don’t ever think that the steamy nights and sizzling days and more spring pollen than a nose can hold are enough to keep creative juices from bubbling to the surface. And bubbling with enough local talent to make an extraordinary stew.

Amidst grassroots musicians, blues singers, classical concerts and choirs, dance companies, songwriters, numerous acting groups, and rockers, ethnic groups, gospel choirs, poets, choreographers, symphony orchestras, and dozens of solo performers it sometimes is just darned hard to choose where to spend your cultural hours. But here’s an idea:

Why not drop in for a night of a little bit of everything? The Southern Shakespeare Festival, May 12-14, in the serenely beautiful venue of the Capital City Amphitheater stage in Cascades Park offers up “As You Like It”, Shakespeare’s convoluted farce, so dizzy you may think Shakespeare had a little ‘borscht-belt’ shtick in mind.

In this production, set in late 1920s Chicago, rather than dirty old England, boys and girls get together, get mixed up, switch clothes, trick each other, and dance the Charleston into the wee hours. Shakespeare’s poetic language suddenly becomes understandable as the action leads the way. And an added bonus is that the audience hears for the first time, original music played and sung to lyrics by the bard himself. (Shakespeare was an aspiring Sondheim? Who knew!)

Artistic Director Lanny Thomas stands in front of performers as they practice for their rendition of ‘As You Like it’, scheduled for the Southern Shakespeare Festival at Cascades Park on May 12-14 2017. (Photo: Joe Rondone/Democrat)

Artistic Director of the Southern Shakespeare Festival, Lanny Thomas, says that it was “funny how the playwright’s words are elastic…and often fit right into 1920’s speak.” Director Thomas has taken the action from downtown Chicago, the hangout of tough characters like wrestlers and bootleggers, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where, in a forest, the monkey business really gets going.

Thomas, himself, is a true theater professional with degrees from Case Western Reserve, American University, and the California Institute of the Arts. He is also an actor who, among many other roles, played Romeo in the D.C. Shakespeare Festival and at the Sylvan Theatre in Washington. He has founded theater companies, directed dozens of plays, chaired boards at the Tallahassee Little Theatre, and is a founding member of the Irish Repertory Theatre. And he loves Shakespeare. He also knows that contemporary audiences respond best to the Bard when the setting is relatable. That is how the 1920s became the locus for the high jinx of “As You Like It.”

Thomas also knew that “music makes the world go around.”Enter, Stephen Hodges, Longineu Parsons, Heather Paudler, Longineu Parsons III, and Brian Hall — each musician a stand-out in their profession.

“It was a little daunting to be asked by Lanny to ‘go compose some music for Shakespeare’s lyrics’, says Hodges. “I’d say I bring a refreshing lack of complication to the task,” he jokes. Stephen Hodges may be a city planner by day, but his fervent avocation is musician — guitar, banjo, mandolin are his favorites. Hodges, who played in professional bands for years, has written original music for four songs in “As You Like It” and has adapted well-known ’20s tunes for the five-piece onstage group.

Best known of the group is Longineu Parsons, a professor at FSU and hailed as “one of the world’s finest trumpet players.” In demand on six continents, Parsons has performed for royalty, recorded with Cab Calloway and Nat Adderley, and performed with international jazz and symphonic ensembles.

Sitting nearby on stage right, and dressed as the other musicians, in period costumes will be Parsons’ son, Longineu Parsons III, a sought-after drummer who performed with Yellowcard and numerous other ensembles.

And bringing the mellowness of strings is Heather Paudler, an ethnomusicologist by training and Professor of Humanities at TCC. She plays dozens of instruments but will offer up her viola riffs in the likes of Sweet Georgia Brown and the St. James Infirmary Blues. On bass is Brian Hall, on the faculty of FAMU where he teaches jazz and performs with the FAMU Jazz Ensemble and his own Cuarteto del Sur.

Stephen Hodges, from left, Heather Paudler and Jake Armstrong collectively with three other artists make the Sheiks of Tallahassee, who will perform the music for their rendition of ‘As You Like it’, scheduled for the Southern Shakespeare Festival at Cascades Park on May 12-14 2017. (Photo: Joe Rondone/Democrat)

Hodges says that coming up with original music that works with the special cadences of Shakespeare’s words wasn’t easy. “I listened again and again to the words, said them out loud, and began to feel the rhythms and patterns inside. Then I introduced a few chords, got a feel for the key, and found the verse, verse, bridge, verse that would make up what might be called a “jazz lead sheet” — the pattern jazz musicians use when they improvise but have a structure to go back to.” Hodges says that’s one reason he chose the musicians who will actually take part. “I selected them for their jazz knowledge… and yes, I expect them to improvise on stage too.”

But the audience will be expected to add a little of their own energy. Director Lanny Thomas says that the Charleston is something the viewers will want to get used to. “Occasionally a train comes through at Cascades Park. You have to just ‘go with it’, ‘cause you sure can’t be heard over it.” That’s when the musicians will break into the Charleston, the ‘train music’, to make the moment fun.” But that’s not its only purpose. Democrat Insiders will be invited to two classes of Charleston conducted by choreographer, Idy Codington. The audience “showcase” will come at the end of As You Like It when Insiders will be invited on stage to wiggle their bums, cross their knees, and waggle a finger in the air. 
Who says you can’t have it all in Tallahassee? A good play. Great verse. Get-down dancing. And some of the best jazz you’re likely to hear. And all on a spring night beneath the stars.

Contact Marina Brown at mcdb100@comcast.net
If You Go
May 12: 6-10 p.m. (play begins at 8 p.m.)
May 13: 5-10 p.m. (play begins at 8 p.m.)
May 14: 4-9 p.m. (play begins at 7 p.m.)

Southernshakepearefestival.org/ and shakespeare-program-schedule-2017/ for a breakdown of the many theatrical performances on each of the festival days and for tickets. Theater With a Mission, Quincy Music Theatre, a Sonnet Contest, Thomasville Center for the Arts, The Bardlings, and Leon High actors in addition to Charleston lessons for Democrat Insiders on Saturday will be held in the several hours before As You Like It begins!

http://www.tallahassee.com/story/life/2017/05/06/bard-abides-shakespeare-does-charleston/101323324/

Gem Collection Raffle

Here is your chance to win some stunning 1920s-inspired jewelry from Tallahassee’s Gem Collection.

Each donation (suggested amount $10) provides automatic entry into the raffle!

 

Set 1 – Total retail value of $364
Set 2 – Total retail value of $350

14K Gold filled SS pearl earrings

14K Gold filled Oxidized Pear Station 24″ Necklace

14K Gold filled Labradorite earrings

14K Gold filled Labradorite 36″ Necklace

 

Simply click the donate button below for a chance to win! All donations go directly to support FREE Shakespeare at Cascades Park!  

ONLINE RAFFLE WILL CLOSE 11:59PM THURSDAY, MAY 11th.  
DRAWING WILL TAKE PLACE SUNDAY, MAY 14TH (between 6:30pm and 6:45pm) at Cascades Park.

Suggested Donation Levels

If you would like to enter the raffle without donating, please click here.

Bards of Tallahassee

TM_logo

Shaking it up at the Southern Shakespeare Festival

by Alexandra Pushkin
Tallahassee Magazine

 

Bradley Mueller
Devon Glover; The Sonnet Man, makes Shakespeare hip.

courtesy Southern Shakespeare Festival / Bob O’Lary
Shaking it for Shakespeare! The festival aims to modernize the plays with entertaining dance acts. Here, Anita Miller performs in “The Comedy of Errors” in 2016.

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.”

Keith Hamilton Cobb’s ‘American Moor’ confronts Shakespeare, racism and truth

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Keith Hamilton Cobb’s “American Moor” is coming to FAMU Jan. 12-13, in partnership with Southern Shakespeare Festival. (Photo: Keith Hamilton Cobb/Special to the Democrat)

December 21, 2016
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT
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.”

Tallahassee Democrat

Thomasville Center for the Arts Theater Classes

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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:
https://thomasvillearts.wufoo.com/forms/wbu0u101a58f9i/

 

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

Young campers bond with Shakespeare

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July 6, 2016
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT
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.

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A fight scene with pool noodle swords.
(Photo: Amanda Thompson)

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.”

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Caroline Cox rehearsing Juliet’s balcony scene
(Photo: Amanda Thompson)

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.”

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Alex Miller with Phil Croton.
(Photo: Amanda Thompson)

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.”

Image_27Croton 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).

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Volunteer awards showcase local heroes

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(Photo: Joe Rondone/Democrat)

May 5, 2016
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT
Ryan Dailey,
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

Shakespeare can save your life

April 16, 2016
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT
Tana McLane,
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.

Continue reading

Behold ye the sonnet finalists

(Photo: Curt Blair)

April 13, 2016
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT

 
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

The Bard’s barbs are still fitting in 2016

(Photo: Democrat illustration)

March 31, 2016
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT
Mark Hinson and Randi Atwood,
Platform Editor

 
“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