Lost Nation Theater is returning, not to its home stage at Montpelier City Hall yet, but to the steps of the Vermont State House, where, last year, it presented a staged reading of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” With the popular success of that performance, the Montpelier professional company will present a staged reading of the Bard’s romantic comedy “As You Like It” at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18.
“People were so excited about ‘Midsummer’ they asked if we would do another,” explained Ann Harvey, director of both. “So we said ‘yes.’”
In “As You Like It,” Duke Frederick has recently deposed his brother Duke Senior as head of the court. But he has allowed Senior’s daughter Rosalind to remain. While she and Celia, the new Duke’s daughter, watch a wrestling competition, Rosalind falls in love with the winner, Orlando. (And, of course it’s mutual.)
But when Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind, Celia joins her for love, frolic and adventure in the Forest of Arden — as only Shakespeare could imagine.
Lost Nation has returned to the staged reading format rather than a full production because of a lack of time, staff and resources. However, Harvey has found it an excellent training opportunity, as well as entertainment for the audience.
“The actors find it freeing in a way,” she said. “Nobody in the show has done the play before except Kim Bent (Lost Nation’s founding artistic director), though they’ve all done some Shakespeare.”
First, Harvey cut the play about 30 minutes down to 90.
“It’s a good way to have a good time, jump in and be done with it,” she said.
For example, she found Orlando a good part for Jelani Pitcher, who is playing the role.
“He’s had the opportunity now to get his feet wet, get his head wrapped around how to do it — and the way I do it.”
Harvey is referring to the First Folio Technique she introduced to Lost Nation Theater in 1995 as the inaugural director of the company’s Fall Foliage Shakespeare series.
Megan Burnett, associate theater professor at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, wrote in “A Case for Using the First Folio as Directing and Acting Text”:
“The First Folio has visual clues for the actor, including capitalized words other than proper names, repeated use of specific consonants, words and phrases, vowels added to words, changes in the spelling of some words and names, punctuation meant more for acting than reading, and split and shared lines and meter. These clues, along with others related to prose vs. verse, sentence structure, and consideration of major vs. minor punctuation (end stops, internal punctuation), put the creative power of acting back in the hands of the actor. … Giving a First Folio acting text to actors demands a more cohesive and ensemble-based approach to the text.”
“A lot of them have done the work, or some of the work, or certainly know about First Folio techniques, but most of them haven’t actually used them,” Harvey said. “These folks now take it really seriously now; they think about it, they talk about it, they ask smart questions. It’s been edifying for me and fun for me.”
Bent, along with Mark Roberts, is a veteran of Fall Foliage Shakespeare and the First Folio Technique.
“Contemporary acting is the exact opposite of what you have to do in order to do Shakespeare successfully,” Bent said. “You have to keep it moving, and you have to stay on the beat, play with it and really use it — and have fun with it.”
“Anything that’s wordy,” Harvey said, “if you’re not thinking, talking, feeling and moving at the same time, you’re just going to get stuck. You’re going to lose the thread of your thought, you’re not going to be able to ride on the emotions of the beat, the meter.
“Your audience is going to get lost because the beginning of your thought to the end of your thought is nine lines — they’re nine lines apart,” Harvey said.
“If you don’t keep on going, nobody is going to know what you’ve said by the time you get to the end,” Harvey said. “So it’s vitally important to keep moving — even if you don’t know what you’re saying yet.”
So performing Shakespeare is quite unlike acting in contemporary theater.
“I can read (Shakespeare), but until I actually say it and work with it, work with the punctuation, work with the lineation, work with all the clues, I don’t know what my character’s feeling or what’s going on in the scene.”
“As You Like It” was the first play in Lost Nation’s Fall Foliage Shakespeare series in 1995.
“It’s another beginning; it’s another way to start out,” Harvey said. “I also thought it was doable in the time we have.”
Harvey also felt this romantic comedy was perfect for our troubled times.
“I think it has a lot of generosity in the face of adversity,” she said. “It resonates with me now, having seen all these people in this play, the ones that are considered to be the good guys anyway, have their lives flipped upside down, end up in new situations not of their making, not necessarily to their advantage, and still they’re positive.”