Travis Cook started theatre in high school, just because it sounded like an easy way to get a required arts credit. An interest developed and in studying both film and theatre in college, he found himself drawn toward theatre as a writer, director and actor. With a resume filled with many directing stints, his original plays being performed in Chicago and a long acting resume including work at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey – it makes sense that he’s at the helm as director of Free Shakespeare’s As You Like It summer tour.
But what about everyone else? Week after week here at Dayton Most Metro and On Stage Dayton, we provide previews and reviews of professional, semi-professional and volunteer-based area theatres. But behind-the-scenes of local theatres is the question of “Why?” Why do people who have day jobs, AP Calculus, and a full college schedule choose to offer their time for your entertainment? Using the cast of the As You Like It, we asked these very questions. Take a look at just a few of people of diverse backgrounds who dedicate their time to bring theatre to life.
Starting with the oldest member of the ASLI company, Bill Styles did some in high school, and 60
years later he’s back in the game. He’s a major fan – traveling to see theatre on Broadway and in Chautauqua (where he worked a few seasons). So, why on stage after such a long break? Bill enjoys the chance to “hang out” with a younger group of people passionate about theatre. He says, “When I saw Hamlet (Free Shakespeare’s first summer tour in 2010), some of the people very much impressed me. I wanted to rub elbows with them.” So although Bill love the diversity of age and experience, he shares that same appeal of universality regardless of age applies to the audience. “When we did Midsummer (2011 tour), my granddaughter was five and we didn’t even know if she’d make it thru a performance. She came to four shows.”
On the other side of the age spectrum, Gabrielle Farrow is new to Shakespeare. A Stivers High School student who can often be found with her text books open during rehearsal breaks, she was drawn to Free Shakespeare because “Mr. Shea” (producing director, Chris Shea) recommended that she audition. Gabby says before her class with Shea, “I hated Shakespeare, but then eased into it thru class; it’s like learning a new language.” Tackling the largest stage part she’s ever had (role of Celia), she’s now a fan. She recommends to audiences to come experience the show without preconceived notions. “if you don’t like Shakespeare or even if you do – you already have expectations of what you think it’ll be. This show is so different, I’d like everyone to come with an open mind.”
Between practicing his Brazilian martial arts and reading Medieval texts backstage, Indigo Monbeck isn’t your stereotypical to-be-college freshman. But AYLI is the perfect match for him as a student of literature and someone who appreciates physicalization. AYLI is his first non-school theatre experience and he took the chance at auditions based on the recommendation of his teacher. Even though he loves the language of Shakespeare, he knows that it’s intimidating to a lot of people. But not to worry; Ingigo shares, “you don’t have to know exactly what people are saying all the time. There’s great physical comedy in the show, so just watch and you’ll get it.”
On the other end of the experience spectrum, Patrick Hayes brings 10+ years of experience from all across the region including Zoot Theatre Co, The Human Race, and multiple university and community theatres. When asked why he does Free Shakespeare, he answers, “the same reason people go to see Free Shakespeare. We all go to escape reality – actors and performers enjoy the same opportunity at the theatre.” He’s had “a lot of fun” playing the comic character of Touchstone. He speaks positively of the more natural environment for Shakespeare; audiences will find “a more relaxed atmosphere without the ‘we’re so artsy’ attitude some people don’t like about the theatre.” He thinks people will have fun with the “inclusive, community environment.”
Jason Antonick has found a community at the theatre; this is both his third Free Shakespeare show and his third acting experience ever. He was excited, but nervous about first auditioning, so much so that he didn’t show up. But a couple days later a part was still open and his friend (the director) called him up to gauge his interest. After reading a line during his impromptu audition (and then being instructed to read it louder – it is outdoor Shakespeare after all!) – it was a fit. When not on stage, Jason is the Manager of Business and Economic Development for the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. He shares that his on-stage experience has even helped him back at the office; he feels much more adept at thinking on his feet. “In the professional world, things come at you quickly and you have to adapt. My theatre experience has taught me how to handle unexpected situations and have fun with them.”
Tackling the largest role in for a woman in Shakespeare’s canon, Cydnie Hampton has big plans for the future. A local theatre grad, she’s been accepted to Pace University (based on using a monologue from AYLI) for the all and will be heading out to NYC. This is Cydnie’s first foray into Free Shakespeare!; she says, ” I’m enjoying being part of the fun this year because I know how much fun it was to watch as an audience member last year.” How fun can it be? Cydnie likes the strength of (some) of the female characters – in the play “women are a lot smarther than the men give them credit for.” She encourages to come enjoy because “Shakespeare was meant to be seen – not read.”
So – what does director Travis Cook hope audiences get out of the experience? He loves that it’s “laid back Shakespeare while still capturing the themes and the spirit of the original play.” What are those themes? Love overcomes all – finding harmony with each other and nature – living outdoors and feeling communal. He says, “A lot of my inspiration came from witnessing the ‘occupy’ movements. Although this play is far from political – the trip to Arden does demonstrate everyone coming together and enjoying spontaneous music and a carefree lifestyle.”
Unfortunately, once you start listing some people, you miss the opportunity to share some of the great stories behind so many of the other dedicated actors from varied backgrounds sharing their skills and love on stage this summer. With 13 performers and 3 artistic staff making this production a reality, there are so many great stories of the people who do theatre because they love it, because it’s entertaining, inspirational, and escape and for many reasons. But lucky for you, there are 12 performances where you can come to experience this FREE show in a park near you. Stick around afterward, throw a couple bucks in the hat (the actors gotta eat) and get to know the performers yourself. It’s well worth it.
Editors Note: Here’s where you can find AYLI around town:
July 25: Rosewood Arts Center, Kettering
July 19-21: ArtStreet Amphitheater, UD
July 26-28: Newcom Founder’s Park, Oregon Historic District (the gazebo)
Aug 1 & 8: Blommel Park, South Park Historic District
Aug 2-4: Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark, Dayton
Aug 9-11: Antioch College Amphitheater, Yellow Springs