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.
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!