Theatre company takes Bard from academia to entertainment
August 4, 2016
If you go
What: Piknik Theatre Festival’s production of Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’
When: 6 p.m. Aug. 5, 12 and 14 at Yampa River Botanic Park
6 p.m. Aug. 6 and 13 on the Bud Werner Memorial Library Lawn
4 p.m. Aug. 7 on the Bud Werner Memorial Lawn
Note: In the event of rain at curtain time, performances will be moved to Bud Werner Memorial Library Library Hall
Cost: Free, but donations will be accepted
More information: galsco.org
Viewed through a contemporary lens, the works of William Shakespeare are often dismissed as inaccessible pieces of high literature and the bane of high school English students throughout the nation.
From that perspective, it's easy to forget that Shakespeare was writing not for academic elites, but rather, for the masses, and that his plays were perceived by his audiences much as a popular sitcom or the latest Netflix original series is perceived by viewers of today.
And that's precisely what director Stuart Handloff and the Great American Laughing Stock Company are aiming to remind modern audiences of with the 2016 Piknik Theatre Festival, which will bring Shakespeare's "As You Like It," arguably the Bard's best known comedy, to Steamboat Springs the weekends of Aug. 5 and Aug. 12: that Shakespeare's works — though certainly great literature — are also great entertainment.
"Just reading it doesn't do justice to the material. It tends to be very dry," Handloff said. "What Shakespeare intended when he wrote it … was 'The Three Stooges' of its day, the 'Beavis and Butthead,' the lowest common denominator of appeal. (He was writing for) the groundlings out there in the front who were paying their penny and getting to throw whatever they didn't want at whatever they didn't like."
And while Handloff doesn't condone Steamboat audiences throwing unwanted snacks at the performers, he did say the company's selection of outdoor venues for the performances (the productions are slated for the Yampa River Botanic Park and the Bud Werner Memorial Library lawn) were selected as a means to transport the audience to the look and feel of an original Shakespeare production.
"That's our focus," Handloff said, " We want to make Shakespeare entertaining, first and foremost, and let the language take care of itself … as it has for several hundred years."
Opening Friday at the Botanic Park, this year's production of "As You Like It," will feature Actors Equity Union actor Hannah Dubner, of New York, in the role of Rosalind, which Handloff described as "the best female role in all of Shakespeare."
"Rosalind has more lines, has more entertainment value than any other role in Shakespeare — maybe even any other male role," Handloff said. "Of the hour and 15 minutes we'll be playing, she's offstage for maybe 15 of them."
He added that securing a performer of Dubner's caliber has worked to elevate the level of entire company.
"When she jumped in, everyone's performances started to go up," Handloff said. "They (the cast) saw how a professional prepares herself, how she conducts herself onstage during rehearsal and (who) knows the material. That was a really big lift for everyone."
The cast also features Denver actor Christian Nieves as Orlando.
The remainder of the roles will be played by Steamboat actors, whom Handloff selected during auditions held in March and described as "extremely hardworking."
"They may not have the experience Christian and Hannah have, but they really dedicate themselves to being part of the program, part of the company, and it's great to see that commitment," he said.
The Piknik Theatre Festival, slated for Aug. 5, 7, 12 and 14 at the Botanic Park, with additional performances Aug. 6 and 13 at Bud Werner Memorial Library, is free, but Handloff said the company will accept donations.
In the event of rain, all performances will be moved to Library Hall, but Handloff said this move will not be made unless "it's raining at curtain time."
"If it's raining at 3 p.m. and clears off, that's not rain," he said. "I don't like performing inside, because it takes away from the performance, but it's better than not performing at all."
Handloff noted the contributions of Go Alpine, which provided transportation for actors from Denver to Steamboat, and Bud Werner Memorial Library, which provided the second venue and helped with advertising and promotion.
He also expressed appreciation to Russ and Shine Atha, Tony and Emily Seaver, Barbara and Edward Robison, Glas Deffryn Ranch, Larry Klingman and Joella West, Margaret Smith, Chris and Jamie Wenig, The Stone Extended Family, Ollie Ballard, Bert Halberstadt and Anna Harrison.
"Sometimes, getting folks out to the Botanic Park can be a little intimidating, so the library's provided a great alternative," he said.
"As You Like It" opens at 6 p.m. Friday at the Botanic Park, with additional performances at 6 p.m. Aug. 6 at the library and at 4 p.m. Aug. 7 at the Botanic Park.
Next weekend's schedule offers performances at 6 p.m. Aug 12 and 14 at the Botanic Park and at 6 p.m. Aug. 13 at the library.