With a powerfully transformative year behind us, we launch into this Year of the Horse at full gallop. An original Bare Theatre production begins to tour, three other productions explore oft-overlooked plays by William Shakespeare, and we begin to delve into some of the other noted Jacobean writers.
Five full productions are on tap for this year, three to finish out our ninth season and two in our our tenth. We will return to some of our favorite places to play as well as discover new spaces. Here’s a quick rundown of things to come:
February 21 – March 16: Let Them Be Heard (In Winter)
The critically-acclaimed original drama based on real slave narratives returns to Historic Stagville in Durham, this time with new characters and stories from North Carolina history. The program is a walking tour that moves in and out of the original slave quarters at Horton Grove, stopping by the bonfire pit outside. Narratives detail life during slavery and The Civil War, and they give insight into life during Reconstruction and beyond.
After a two-week run at Historic Stagville, Let Them Be Heard moves to The ArtsCenter in Carrboro for our first-ever performance there. ArtsCenter Stage Director Jeri Lynn Schulke will take over directing to adapt the show to the theater space and the show will expand to 75 minutes with more narratives. Let Them Be Heard runs at The ArtsCenter March 7 – 16.
Later in the year, in June and July, we will also begin to tour Let Them Be Heard to other historic plantation sites, including Hope Plantation and Historic Somerset Place.
March 27 – April 12: Cymbeline
At the end of March, we take on an oft-overlooked gem from William Shakespeare. Cymbeline is a true favorite of some of our company members, and has been referred to by some as “Shakespeare’s greatest hits.” The play is epic, spanning locations and genres, and thus it is difficult to categorize. As such, scholars have listed it among Shakespeare’s comedies or tragedies.
We place it among the comedies because it fits the original sense of the term “comedy” – meaning that the protagonists succeed and there is a happy ending. There is still plenty of humor, however, often provided by the villains of the play. There is betrayal and sadness as well, and the play culminates with a huge battle. There’s romance, laughs, tears, even a beheading…This is a play well worth taking in!
Laura Bess Jernigan, who performed in the very first Bare Theatre production ever, directs Cymbeline with a cast of nine who will double and triple-up roles. She is very interested in the recurring theme of rebellion found in the text, and is taking this production “underground.” We will be performing for our first time in the Cordoba Arts Center at Golden Belt in Durham.
May 23 – 31: Two Noble Kinsmen: Fire & Shadows
This Spring we return to Stephenson Amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre for the third time with a play not usually included in Shakespeare’s canon. The Two Noble Kinsmen is attributed to both Shakespeare and John Fletcher, another renowned writer of the era who took over as house playwright for The King’s Men after Shakespeare.
“Kinsmen” is a re-telling of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales, and the story centers around two cousins of nobility who both fall madly in love with the same woman and are eventually forced to fight each other to the death.
The theme of this production, “fire and shadows,” reunites Bare Theatre with fire and pyrotechnics artists from Cirque de Vol Studios and Mesmerizing Arts, and will also include shadow play mixed in with live action. The mix of light and dark, fire and shadow, along with a gripping script will captivate audiences in the beautiful outdoor setting.
- Mundi Broda with fire fans in last year’s The Comedy of Errors.
Our tenth full season kicks into high gear with another lesser-known work by Shakespeare: Coriolanus. This time Bare Theatre will team up with parkour/freerunning athletes from the newly-opened Enso Movement to perform an unforgettable outdoor experience. Inspired by the Moral Monday protests at Halifax Mall in downtown Raleigh (which tie in remarkably well with the political climate in the play), we will turn the government complex into our stage and lead audiences on a thoroughly modern take of this gripping tragedy.
We then turn to the pool of other Jacobean playwrights that get overlooked because of Shakespeare’s prominence. Veteran actor Matt Schedler, who last directed The Merchant of Venice for Bare Theatre, directs a bloody tale called The Revenger’s Tragedy. The play, originally published anonymously in 1607, was performed by The King’s Men and attributed later in the century to Cyril Tourneur, although modern scholars believe it more likely to have been written by Thomas Middleton. Nonetheless, fans of violent revenge dramas will enjoy this show next October.
It’s going to be an exciting year.
We want to thank everyone who has participated with Bare Theatre in 2013 – the actors, directors, crew members, Kickstarter supporters, and of course, audience members! Theatre is about community – live, in person, visceral and intimate – and it is about memorable experiences that cannot be duplicated in the same way on film or television. The community we have found in the Raleigh-Durham area has been wonderful, and we simply could not do any of this without all of you.
2014 stands before us. Come join us for the fun!
2013 certainly has been a watershed year for this little theatre company that could. Four different productions took us from Common Ground to Historic Stagville to the amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre. We collaborated with amazing circus artists from Cirque de Vol Studios and brilliant musicians brought to us by PineCone.
Here’s a look back…
February: WINTER ACTS 2013
Our fourth collection of short works showcased a mix of circus acts and dark theatre, with two original new plays and one piece from the 1960’s. The incredible talent from Cirque de Vol opened the show, featuring a different act each night. The acts included dazzling hoop work by Paige LaWall (“Papyrus”), acrobatics from Liz Bliss and Jewels, sword dancing from Raleigh’s own bearded lady, “Gatita,” and an eye popping juggling act from Adam Dipert. This began the collaborative work that would be featured in The Comedy of Errors in May.
- Mary Forester and Loren Armitage in “Fun House,” part of Winter Acts 2013. Photo by G. Todd Buker.
The first play up was “The Hitler Youth Knife,” written by former Rogue Company member R. Alex Davis. Matt Fields and Justin Smith played college roommates discussing the betrayal of a mutual love – and its consequences. Heather Strickland directed “Fun House” by Tarboro playwright Jordan Carlson. Mary Forester and Jeff Buckner explored a surreal dark world inhabited by a mysterious Loren Armitage, who brought back a final memory. Closing out the night was “The Tape Recorder” from English-born playwright Pat Flower. The piece, which was featured in the first color broadcast on the BBC, found an innocent young woman (played by Maegan Mercer-Bourne) taking dictation from author Loren Armitage’s reel-to-reel tape recorder – only to discover a diabolical plan waiting for her.
May: The Comedy of Errors
- The set of “The Comedy of Errors” at Stephenson Amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre. Photo by Paul Cory.
Our first production in the Stephenson Amphitheatre had us going big. Working with the incredible Sara Phoenix and Cirque de Vol studios, the play was set in an antique circus environment, complete with “nimble jugglers,” belly dancers, acrobats, and aerial artists who performed high above the stage on the huge aerial silk and trapeze rig we constructed and dismantled every night. Pyrotechnics and fire spinning/juggling lit up the nights, and we even made a couple of new friends with the albino pythons that took the stage with us!
I’m proud of every production we take on, but I will always have a special fondness for this one. The company tackled a lot and conquered several fears along the way – of heights, fire, blades, snakes – and got the audiences rolling with laughter along the way at one of William Shakespeare’s earlier works.
- Mora Harris, Rebecca Blum, Brian Fisher and Chuck Keith in “The Comedy of Errors.” Photo by Paul Cory.
The Comedy of Errors brought in audiences numbering almost 2,000 over four evenings. Our previously most-attended production, Much Ado About Nothing (2011), saw about 480 over the course of ten performances. Getting this many people out to see one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays is an achievement in itself, and one I hope all involved are very proud of.
June: Let Them Be Heard returns to Historic Stagville
Hot on the heels of Errors was the remount of our 2012 original production based on North Carolina slave narratives. This time, however, the cast powered through three times as many performances, completing 11 shows in all.
The show had already made INDYweek’s “Best of Triangle Theatre” list for 2012 in the categories of Best Ensemble, Best Direction, Best Production, and Special Achievement in the Humanities. 2013 brought new honors, including a 5-star review of the show, and additional recognition for Best Costumes in the 2013 “Best of” list (congratulations to David Serxner and Phillip B. Smith for that honor!).
Barbette, Phillip, Kyma, Warren, Gil (the new kid!) and Justin even deeper into the characters that gave us these important narratives, and they continue to make this show an overwhelming success.
August: As You Like It
We opened our ninth – yes, ninth – full season with one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies. Heather directed her personal favorite Shakespeare play on the very stage on which she played Rosalind back in 2005 – right before Bare Theatre returned to Triangle stages. This time we worked with PineCone: The Piedmont Council for Traditional Music, who taught us a lot about live music and bluegrass, and introduced us to some truly excellent musicians.
We knew we were in luck when The Zinc Kings contacted us about doing the show. Not only did they rehearse and play live throughout the performances – they wrote all original music for Shakespeare’s songs and recorded a new album! Mark, Christen, and Dan were so much fun to work with, and we hope we cross artistic paths with them again some day. Incidentally, they picked up a “Best of” honor from INDYweek in the category of Best Original Music!
I have to say that for me personally, this was one of the most fun shows we’ve ever done. The cast was so positive and the energy was absolutely contagious. This production, like Errors, brought in almost 2,000 audience and we couldn’t be more pleased to see such enthusiasm for these plays.
September: SPARKcon 2013
Our third appearance at “the creative explosion of the South” was a bit different this year. Since we were on early break and were not promoting any show specifically, we decided to have a dance party in the street. Actors from at least nine different productions over the past nine years dressed up as their favorite characters and danced like no one was watching. Not only were people watching, but many of them joined in with us! If you missed it, the video is here.
November: Company Meeting
- Heather J. Strickland being distracted from directing “Fun House.” Photos by G. Todd Buker.
The first company-wide meeting was held on Nov. 7, and we shared some sad news. Heather J. Strickland, who had served as Managing Director from 2005 – 2009 and had been serving as Artistic Director ever since, had decided to step out of that role to give her growing family more of her time and energy, and she had just started a new day job as well.
Though I will really miss having Heather in a strategic and artistic decision-making role, I am very pleased that she will continue to be an important member of the company, acting and doing fight choreography in our upcoming Cymbeline, and working on fights in Two Noble Kinsmen.
A great deal of positive ideas came out of this meeting, which was just a first step as we chart new territory with Bare Theatre. We will continue to seek input from company members moving forward, and we will always strive to make this company a safe, fun, and welcoming environment for artists to create and explore.
What a year. As amazing as 2013 was, 2014 looks to go even further, with Let Them Be Heard returning to Stagville in winter before touring to The ArtsCenter in Carrboro and later in the year to Hope Plantation and Somerset Place near the NC coast. Veteran director, actor, and writer Laura Bess Jernigan – who was in the very first Bare Theatre production – directs Shakespeare’s Cymbeline at the Cordoba Arts Center at Golden Belt in Durham. We close out Season IX with Two Noble Kinsmen: Fire & Shadows, which will reunite us with Cirque de Vol performers in the amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre.
More great things to come! We hope you will be there with us. Happy New Year!
There is already a certain electricity I can feel out at the Stephenson Amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre. The place has atmosphere, and as more than one cast member has already remarked, it feels like a place in which someone should do Shakespeare. The stonework walls and benches, the raked wooden stage floor that feels like an old ship run aground…it feels like a set even with no actual set pieces in it.
The open air is inviting. Now that North Carolina Spring is (finally!) in effect, the warm air and cool breeze makes for perfect weather. There is a serenity to the place, and a strong sense of time. The amphitheatre has, after all, been there for over seven decades.
Raleigh Little Theatre is the granddaddy of this collaborative effort. As one of the oldest community theatres in the nation, they have a ton of history. Formed during the Great Depression, they’ve seen ups and downs – but they have lasted through good and bad and continued to entertain and educate the Raleigh community for a long time.
A long lifespan by no means indicates that RLT has grown tired. I have to say that this organization, especially with the new leadership of Executive Director Charles Phaneuf, is doing a great job of producing theatre that attracts and engages its audiences.
By contrast, with only eight full seasons under our belt, Bare Theatre is relatively new. We don’t have anywhere near the resources of RLT. We don’t even usually use scenery, much less have a scene shop. Heck, we don’t even have a theater. RLT has three!
However, the fact that we don’t have much if any overhead allows us some flexibility and agility. We can sometimes take some risks. As much as that can sometimes drive me bonkers, it also provides some freedom for us to dream.
Cirque de Vol is the newest entity in our little trifecta, and they’ve generated a lot of interest in their first year of operation. The high ceilings of the colorful and welcoming studios downtown have become a sort of home base to a community of circus performers in the Triangle. Not only does the physical space in the Hue building provide these talented artists with a space to congregate and practice, but they are now instructing a new generation of children and adults in trapeze, aerial silks, acrobatics, lyra, hooping, and yoga (just to name a few).
Sara Phoenix and her sister, Sheryl Howell, have created a strong atmosphere of positivity – it washes over you when you walk through the door. Sara’s sunny can-do attitude is so reassuring when we talk about things that make me somewhat nervous – aerial silk rigs, trapeze hanging from towers, and flamethrowers shooting fireballs off of said towers.
I’d also like to mention Greg Whitt of Drum for Change, who has agreed to head up our percussion ensemble that will accompany the madness. Sound has always been important to me in theatre (that’s how I got started with Bare), and drums provide energy and pulse to help keep driving the action.
So here we are. And we now have a complete cast! After auditioning via Skype from London, Brian Fisher will now be playing the part of Antipholus of Syracuse, and we are glad to have him.
The pace quickens. The show gets louder.
I’ll start this entry with a disclaimer. I love Netflix, watch it all the time. I hardly ever go to the movie theater anymore, and I don’t see nearly as many live shows as I want to. There, I said it. I don’t get out enough.
However, I don’t think I’m alone in this respect, and that is a little sad to me. I think live entertainment used to bring people together more.
Obviously back in Shakespeare’s time people had to see entertainment live because they couldn’t get it any other way. I think it’s kind of neat to imagine the crowds that gathered at The Globe – up to 3,000 people attending one show. People from all walks of life, rich and poor, all gathered to see plays that are still being performed today.
The actors and the audience members who could afford better admission got sheltered seats with a roof over them. Those who couldn’t, “the groundlings,” had to stand at the bottom. If it was raining, they stood watching for about four hours…in the rain.
Not many people would watch a play in the rain today (although Heather did – at The Globe!). Sure, we don’t have to, but the shift in attitude towards live theatre is pretty striking.
This got me thinking: what events bring people together like this nowadays? Pop music concerts and sporting events, right? I once stood in pouring rain with thousands of other people at Raleigh Amphitheater to see Fleet Foxes (totally worth it!), but that’s a pretty rare thing these days.
Could drama bring members of the community in Raleigh and the Triangle together? I’d like to think so, especially after seeing the crowds at Shakespeare productions at Koka Booth Amphitheatre the last three years.
The folks who built the outdoor stage at Raleigh Little Theatre back in the late 1930’s must have been dreamers. The formation of RLT and its construction during the depths of the Depression are testaments to the power of people whose imaginations conquered harsh financial and practical realities. They succeeded in building an amphitheater at one end of the old State Fairgrounds race track – and now that space stands ready for our imaginations.
My goal is pretty simple. I want people to give Shakespeare a try because I think many of them will like it, just like we do. Errors is the shortest play we have from Shakespeare (a mere 1,787 lines compared with Hamlet’s 3,800+ lines). It is not a heady play by any stretch. It’s a broad farce with a ridiculous premise (what are the odds of two sets of twins both having the same name?). It’s accessible.
Does this mean it’s not worthwhile to perform? I say no, because it’s still a fun play. It’s funny today because we all understand the humor. Errors is a situation comedy and we can all enjoy watching the chaos that unfolds.
With circus added in, I’m hoping to make this more than a play. I’ll defend spectacle in addition to broad comedy because I think it does have its place. From what I’ve seen of Cirque de Vol and their surrounding circus collective, these performers are artists and they spend a lot of time working on their craft. What we will create with them over the next two months will hopefully be a fresh and rollicking rendition of this early Shakespeare text.
I’m taking for granted that it will rain at least a couple of the performance nights. If we can get a night or two without rain, the North Carolina weather in late May should be warm and inviting. People can bring their children to this show, pack a picnic or grab some concessions or food truck treats.
There will be comedy and there will be spectacle. Hopefully, this will be a dream that we can share together.
We are constantly looking for and inviting people to join the ride that is Bare Theatre.
It’s been quite a ride. In the last seven years, we’ve performed 15 of Shakespeare’s plays, four collections of one-acts, and 2 SPARKcons. We’ve performed in at least eight different venues around the Triangle, in Durham, Raleigh, Cary and Holly Springs. We’ve performed outdoors, in an art gallery, and in an original slave quarters cabin. There has been a lot of stage blood and no less than two inflatable, um…creatures.
This past year, we took a break from Shakespeare, which we used to perform almost exclusively. I think this was necessary – it was time to get out of what was becoming a comfort zone. That’s not to say we had mastered his work by any means, but we were getting very familiar with it and in such cases it can be easy to form habits.
We embarked on a series of projects that took us from Christopher Durang to Eugene Ionesco, from “Hot Greek Porn” to “Hitler Youth Knife.” We also delved into the Works Progress Administration’s Slave Narrative Project with Let Them Be Heard – a project for that appears to just now be beginning (more on that to come)!
These have been incredible experiences that had us exploring clowning in the streets of downtown Raleigh and digging down deep into the roots of racism in America. I know I personally have learned a lot about theatre, and audiences, and about putting on a show in general.
This year, we want to go big.
For our return to the works of Master Shakespeare, we will be performing two comedies that Bare Theatre has not done before. The first – coming this May – is The Comedy of Errors, an early screwball comedy of mistaken identities. The second – slated for September – will be As You Like It, an epic love romp through the forest of Arden.
For these two shows, we knew we wanted to experiment with a different venue and we wanted somewhere in Raleigh, where most of us live. We had an incredible time doing The Winter’s Tale at Sertoma Amphitheater in Bond Park a few years back, and it seemed like booking shows in Spring and Fall would be great times for outdoor theatre.
And we’ve wanted to perform at Raleigh Little Theatre’s Stephenson Amphitheatre for a while, too – ever since a group of folks who would later form much of the core of Bare Theatre performed As You Like It on that very stage in 2005.
This is a big venue. Research tells us this place holds somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 audience members – a far cry from the intimate black box of Common Ground Theatre, a space we love and call home. The stone walls and raked wooden stage are perfect for Shakespeare but the question becomes, how do we fill it?
Collaboration is the answer we came up with. Many months ago I conceived Errors as a circus show, but I knew that to really pull it off we would need actual jugglers, hoop dancers, acrobats, and the like. Luckily, sharing the streets of SPARKcon with circus artists has introduced us to the amazing talent involved with Cirque de Vol Studios. Enter Sara Phoenix and the crew at Cirque de Vol.
How to fill a huge stage? Take an already big cast and add circus. We’re now exploring having a silk aerial rig onstage, as well as lyra and possibly a slack rope. Throw in a few fireballs. Make the city of Ephesus, the sole location of Errors, a circus town with a marketplace filled with tricks, stunts and artistry.
This is an ambitious project. Certainly it’s the biggest show I’ve ever attempted. I already need to thank Sara and Cirque de Vol as well as Charles Phaneuf and Raleigh Little Theatre. Without their help this wouldn’t be happening.
It is happening, and it’s going to be one crazy show. Stay tuned!