By Maddie Orton
It’s 5:30 a.m. and The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey‘s educational touring company has already had coffee at the homes they share, loaded up the van and taken to the road to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Trenton Central High School — your average morning for Shakespeare LIVE!
“We normally start at 4:30/5 in the morning, all load into our 15-passenger van, drive to pick up that trailer that holds our set, props, costumes, head to the school, unload, do the shows, load everything back into the trailer, if we have a second show, we go do that. Otherwise, we head back to the Shakespeare Theatre,” says company actor Michael Striano.
Shakespeare LIVE! will bring more than 75 performances of Midsummer and Julius Caesar this year to schools throughout the tri-state area — an integral part of the theater’s mission.
“I think this generation, I think we undermine their ability to play with language with quick text messages and video games and that sort of stuff,” says Shakespeare Theatre’s Director of Education Brian Crowe. “Whereas, with Shakespeare LIVE!, they can see the power that language has for them, and a lot of them get really excited about that.”
“The earlier that you can start attuning your ear to hearing it, the easier it becomes, and it doesn’t really seem like an older version of English after awhile,” says company actor Liz Daingerfield.
For schools like Trenton Central, bringing the show to them can be a game changer.
“Buses are really expensive. Of course then there’s the cost of actually going, and program fees, as well as having extra chaperones,” explains Trenton Central High School drama teacher Christina Forshey. “The fact that Shakespeare Theatre is coming to us is probably the only way that my students are seeing Shakespeare.”
It’s a unique experience for company members as well.
“I love it for early-career actors,” says Crowe. “It actually has proven to be one of our greatest training grounds for artists.”
“I would say often about half of the people in our audience have never seen a live theater performance before, and to be able to be those people is a lot of pressure, but also very cool,” says actor Dean Linnard.
“The little ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ we hear when Bottom’s head comes off or when Puck or Oberon will cast a spell, it’s really real for them, and they really have no idea where it came from,” says Daingerfield. “For me, that’s the most heartwarming, amazing part of it.”
While the lifestyle of this six-month contract may be a bit strenuous, company members wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s extreme theater. You know how people do extreme sports? It’s extreme theater,” says actor Isabelle Russo. “You jump right in and you’re sharing a kitchen and you’re sharing a bathroom, and day one you’re like, ‘Ready, set, hi, let’s all be friends.’”
“We’re like a little family,” says Daingerfield. “I don’t know, it’s just fun!”
Company contracts are up in June, and while the tour will come to a close for many cast members, the lessons learned will inform the rest of their careers.