November 30, 2009

Technology Meets Shakespeare in As You Like It

By Sarah H. Dolan
November 19, 2009

The oft-quoted phrase, "all the world's a stage," takes on new meaning in the Regent University Theatre Department production of Shakespeare's As You Like It, an interactive production experience through the use of 21st-century technology.

"The play is about transformation," explained Director Scott Hayes, professor in the School of Communication & the Arts. "Characters are forced to change their environments, put on false identities, and their ideas are transformed into noble actions. I hope our 'transforming' of the play into a contemporary setting makes clear the timeless nature of our message."

Helping carry the message are singers who interact with musical interludes from Guitar Hero and Windows Media Player (WMP) soundtracks. Blackberry messages are projected on the big screen for the audience to see. Actors are outfitted in modern-day apparel, such as camouflage, worldwide wrestling uniforms and looks that emulate i-Pod character icons. And most importantly, about 90 text messages are sent throughout each performance to audience members' (silent) cell phones.

Hayes was inspired to add these and other modern, interactive elements to Regent's production when listening to a radio station describing a church that text-messaged the congregation during the sermon. The texts were released at specified times, citing verse references, web-links and other related content.

"I saw the worth of this approach, particularly when producing a play that uses advanced vocabulary or that takes place in an unfamiliar time or location," Hayes said.

As You Like It sticks to Shakespeare's original dialogue to tell the story of court exiles and forest natives searching for love and meaning in the forest of Arden. And Regent's audience set-up is designed for members to receive a mixed message, Elizabethan-style. This means that the audience is split into two classes: "wired" (informed), members who receive text messages in the balcony, and "unwired"(uninformed), members who sit in the orchestra seating. The wired section receives text messages that act as footnotes to the script, including biblical, Greek and Roman references. The texts also identify allusions to celebrity and nobility as well as disguised insults and humor.

As a result, at times laughter can be heard throughout one section, while the other just doesn't quite get it, which is meant to work toward adding depth to the comedy. Other modern-day elements include a comprehensive use of technology, such as projected live video and Twitter.

In the end, the elaborate use of visuals and technology add to the humor of the well-loved comedy, which is punctuated by what Hayes describes as some of Shakespeare's "wittiest characters" of all time. Two MFA in Acting students perform their thesis roles in the production, Stephanie Chandler (Rosalind) and Robert Arbaugh (Orlando).

Regent's production of As You Like It has caught the attention of the Southeastern Theatre Conference, the largest and most active regional theatre organization in the country, which plans to follow up with Hayes on the results of the show later this spring.

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November 20, 2009

Facebook Fan page and Tweets for As You Like It!

Become a fan of Regent Theatre on facebook! Search pages for ‘Regent University Theatre.’

The theatre twitter feed ( is being copied to the fan page, so you can access the As You Like It tweets from there as well!

Tickets are going fast! Make sure you don't miss this production of Shakespeare's popular romantic comedy!

November 11, 2009

Shakespeare's As You Like It gets a technological makeover!

As you may have already heard, Regent Theatre is taking our upcoming production of Shakespeare's As You Like It into today's technology-saturated world. In fact, in our production, the audience members can follow along on their cell phone or laptop computer to get extra insight into what is happening during this popular Shakespearian romantic comedy. Check out these sites for more info or to follow along!

Here are Director Scott Hayes' Notes on the concept of the production and where it came from--Enjoy, and see you at the theatre!

"I love almost all things Shakespeare. I’ve been blessed to have been intimately attached to the productions of 25 of the 37 plays attributed to the Bard. I never tire of the immediate and vibrant effect Shakespeare’s words have on our contemporary audience when the words seem newly-coined by actors who embrace the process.

At the same time, I’m not particularly pleased when directors create “concept” productions with little regard to the playwright’s original intent. To thwart such work, we teach directing students the importance of analysis. From a director’s point of view, practical analysis is basically the process through which the director will uncover the meaning of the play while keeping in mind the original facts behind the creation of the play. Only after a director analyzes a play should he or she decide whether interpretation is necessary – and only if the audience watching the contemporary production is in some way fundamentally different from the original.

Our audience has much in common with the Elizabethans , yet in the last three decades we have moved farther apart than in the previous 350 years. New media have opened up massive avenues for information, allowing unfiltered access to the best and the worst of culture and scholarship. Our access devices continue to proliferate and each of us are in some way tied – perhaps kicking and screaming - to the infrastructure of the virtual world. Truth be told, our mature audience has more in common with the Elizabethans than our student population. Today’s undergraduate student doesn’t know a world without the personal computer, and the high school student has always known the Internet and cell phone. “Information access” has become the most influential paradigm of our culture. I believe the ready and unrestrained access to information fundamentally separates us from our sixteenth century ancestors.

I accepted the responsibility of directing As You Like It just before last Easter. A day or so later, I was listening to a radio station describing a large church that had decided to change cell phone policies. Instead of silencing the phones, the church incorporated the use of text messaging during the message. The church would send messages regarding verse references, web links, and related content at specified times. I immediately thought of the effect of this approach for the theatre – particularly when producing a play that may use an advanced vocabulary, be of an unusual genre, or may take place in an unfamiliar time or location. A theatre production, using text messages, could send “footnotes” directly to the viewer in real time. We saw the appeal for our younger audience, but were concerned for the audience who might not want or need the text message “footnote” – wouldn’t they be bothered by the intrusion?

A student director and I came up with the idea of separating our audience into the “wired” section – the balcony – and the “unwired” section – the orchestra - and that’s when the “interpretation” of As You Like It came to me. In essence, we would be recreating the world of the Elizabethan audience that was split into two classes. The “informed” Elizabethan audience for As You Like It would sit in the galleys (balconies) and understand all of the Biblical, Greek, and Roman references, identify the allusions to celebrities and nobility, laugh at the disguised insults meant for the French – yet the “uninformed” audience standing in the “pit” (the orchestra) could enjoy the story of the play without any of this information. We decided to take the concept of wired/unwired/informed/uniformed into the production design, borrowing concepts from the Elizabethan theatre and incorporating contemporary elements. Like the Globe, Swan, or Rose theatres, we use a two-level stage with few scenic elements delineating changes of location, and we set the play in the contemporary world, as Shakespeare did. We haven’t changed Elizabethan verse, language, or structure, but we incorporate today’s music, video, Twitter, and other 21st century communication tools. All plot elements remain unchanged, yet fit perfectly in our contemporary setting – commercial wrestling, political regimes being overthrown, etc. In addition, there are a series of hidden comments within the production design that may be lost to anyone over the age of 25. It is exciting to think a seasoned theatre-goer may have to ask a younger audience member to help explain these elements – for example, the melody’s significance when Amiens serenades Jacques!

Our interpretation and use of technology has been embraced by both the academic and professional theatre community. Our production concept has been selected for presentation at Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC), the largest academic theatre gathering in the United States. Two months ago, well into our production implementation, I was interested to hear of similar elements being incorporated at Virginia Stage Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet. For the record – neither production knew of the plans of the other, and the use of technology is quite different. Romeo and Juliet used more 21st century storytelling elements (webcams, Facebook updates, etc.) and we use our 21st century elements primarily to interact with our audience, and I hope some members of our audience were able to see both productions.

My prayer with this production is no different from any other director. I pray our interpretation allows you to experience Shakespeare as if for the first time, enhancing without distracting from your experience. For some of our audience, this may in fact be the first time you’ve attended a play by William Shakespeare – and it is a deep honor and privilege to share what I love with you. May this be the beginning of a life-long relationship!"

November 6, 2009

Reflections from the Cast of "Dancing at Lughnasa"

“Brian Friel’s work is so captivating in that it has multiple themes going on—religion vs. paganism, memory and identity, use of language, etc—and not exactly any clear-cut answers. This role was a challenging one for me, and I learned so much about my technique by playing a character with so much more life experience than I have. With Marianne’s awesome, freedom-giving guidance, by the end of the process, I had found such deep, personal connection with aspects of Kate that it was both extremely fun and extremely difficult to go onstage every night opening myself up to the emotional rollercoaster it would end up being and letting things hit those raw nerves. One night before the show, I remember the thought kept popping into my brain: ‘I get to help tell this story. I get to help tell this story.” It wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about my performance, my work, technique, etc. etc. It was about the story. This work is admittedly Friel’s most autobiographical, and I felt honored to portray one of ‘those five brave Glenties women’ who were Friel’s aunts and pay tribute to their lives.” –Katie Fridsma, 3rd year MFA student (Kate Mundy, thesis role).

“It was an honor to be involved in such a fantastic show and I feel so blessed to have started my work here at Regent with this show. I had worked with Marianne previously during my undergrad at Vanguard University and it was so wonderful to get a chance to work with her again. She really stretched my understanding of the role beyond just playing the part of narrator. Michael was just as much a character in this show, being changed and molded throughout, as any of the others. Exploring Michael's emotions during the show really only whetted my appetite as I feel I could have gone so much further it had the run had been longer. I'm so glad I got to see every second of this show over and over again. I learned so much watching the four thesis actors and I can't wait to do a role where I get to talk face to face with someone!” –Jeff Fazakerley, 1st year MFA student (Michael)

“There are fun moments in theatre, some great moments, as well as some inspiring ones. Lughnasa for me, was a fiery exaltation of everything that I have ever hoped to be as an actor; sharing moments of pain and joy onstage. Every night, exhausted beyond reason, I thanked God for His connection between my talents as an actor to offer up Maggie's story to the Regent community at large. I couldn't ask for anything more than playing Maggie Mundy. I will truly miss her and my Mundy sisters. ‘Yeawww!’” –Anna Koehler, 3rd year MFA student (Maggie, thesis role).

“From the moment I auditioned, I fell in love with both Jack’s initial vulnerability and his tenacious grace. Indeed, Marianne Savell, our director, encouraged me immensely when she suddenly exclaimed during our initial one-on-one meeting, ‘I mean, you really are Father Jack!' My reflection would be incomplete without a comment on the privilege it was to play opposite the rest of a very talented cast. Having worked professionally for many years prior to coming here, I am pleased to proclaim that my fellow MFA castmates are all ready to compete at the professional level, regardless of where they are in the program. I am especially excited to watch the 'thesis role' girls take the plunge upon graduation this summer and know that God has good in store for each of them. To all who danced along with us… words are no longer necessary.” –Mike Salsbury, 1st year MFA student (Father Jack)

“Being my first show at Regent, Lughnasa was a challenge as well as a rewarding experience. One of the ways it was challenging was having to speak in a British dialect when all the other characters spoke with an Irish dialect. It was incredibly hard to speak in an accent different from all the other cast members. I listened to people speaking the dialect nonstop, watched Mary Poppins with my children and An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest with my wife. Finally, even though my girls (Mia and Bella, twins age 3) looked at me funny, I spoke in the dialect almost all the time at home. One of the ways Lughnasa was a rewarding experience was that I had the privilege to play opposite Katie Cheely, who played Chrissie—Gerry's love interest. Katie was spontaneous, flexible, and downright fun onstage. Through being onstage with Katie, I learned by her example how to truly listen to the other person in the scene and respond accordingly through the text. With its challenges and rewards, I was honored to be a part of the cast of Dancing at Lughnasa and thoroughly enjoyed the direction of Marianne Savell.” –Nathanael Fisher, 1st year MFA student (Gerry Evans)