Assistant director spotlight: Zak Metalsky

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Zak Metalsky

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was my first experience with Shakespeare, and with the Summer Shakespeare program, so coming back to assistant direct it is all kinds of nostalgia. I was an incoming freshmen when the program did Midsummer six years ago, so I hardly knew anyone–at first. The only person I knew going into it was my older brother, who was also an assistant director (what are the odds?), but that quickly changed as the theatre community welcomed me with open arms. I met some of my closest friends–including my best friend–in that production, so Midsummer has always been a special play to me. Now, I get to watch friendships spark in the cast and crew of a new Midsummer, which will hopefully last as long as mine have–through high school and beyond.

Now that my role has changed–from an actor in the fairy ensemble to a director–I can

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Zak as a fairy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2010

step back and appreciate all of the steps that are taken to get a cast engaged and a performance ready. I get to see the students building more trust towards one another, as we play games that focus on trust and imagination, which are vital to the world of theatre. I get to see the students become enthusiastic as we explain how our production of Midsummer is going to be like nothing they’ve done before. I get to see the students using their passion and imagination, tackling their characters and crew assignments with gusto to make the show as amazing as possible. Most importantly, I get to see the students grow as actors, technicians, Shakespeare enthusiasts, and people, helping each other create something much larger than themselves.

The students want to make something that they can be proud of, and as a director, my job is to channel their energy and harness it into something focused, thought-out, and loved. The assistant directors handle many of the managerial and logistical aspects of theatre, so that our rehearsals can be dedicated to the show and nothing else. Contacting places for car washes

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Zak as Shakespeare, A Winter’s Tale 2012

and rehearsals, editing and blocking parts of the script, organizing people’s schedules, helping the director organize his thoughts, and printing out the hundreds of handouts about Shakespeare are all done by the assistants outside of class time, so that what does get done in class happens as efficiently as it can. Of course, the students put in a lot of work outside of class time as well: building costumes, memorizing lines, doing character analysis, selling ads, and fundraising at different events are all tacked on to the Summer Shakespeare experience. Despite this extra work, people never complain–it helps to unite them as a cast and crew, and makes them feel connected to the program, to the 30 years of Summer Shakespeare’s history.

Our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is going to be radically different than anything Summer Shakespeare has done in the past, which is both terrifying and electrifying. We are performing Midsummer in the woods, at a venue with

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Zak as King Charles of France, Henry V 2013

one indoor location and three outdoor locations, of which we are performing in all four. The audience will move around from location to location, following the characters as they enter the woods and get horribly lost (in many ways) as they go. We are also setting Midsummer in modern, performing as if it was happening today – something that no one in our production has done before. It is new territory for everyone, and thinking about how we accomplish these ideas has been a collaborative effort every step of the way. We have asked the cast about how to set an Elizabethan play in 2016, how to let an audience know that they are moving in the middle of a performance, and how to stage a play so that it is both funny and genuine: a little over-the-top, but believable. And there has been a constant stream of ideas and feedback along the way.

Come see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Refuge, on 1000 N. Ballard Road, from July 21st-24th and July 28th-31st at 7:30 pm!

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Assistant director spotlight: Corrie Riedl

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Six years ago I made one of the smartest decisions of my life. After finishing my freshman year of high school I joined Appleton Summer Shakespeare’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was cast as Mustardseed the fairy, a role that will always be near to my

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Corrie as Mustardseed, A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2010

heart, and I spent that summer learning about the Bard, making lifelong friends, and admiring the upperclassmen’s passion and dedication to their performances. That summer I caught the “Shakespeare bug” that changed my life forever. The next year I was cast in my first lead role, Lady Ann in Richard III. I recently went back and watched a recording of that production, and was astonished by how far I’ve come as a performer and an artist. That little high school freshman has grown into a college senior who has decided to dedicate her life to the theatre, particularly to the classical theatre. With each production I am a part of I become more and more grateful for the opportunities this program gave me for four wonderful years, and the skills and passion I cultivated in that time.

Last year I returned to Summer Shakespeare to fill a new role; that of the assistant director. As I thought back to the assistant directors I worked with when I was in the program, I realized I had some large shoes to fill. All of my predecessors were fantastic

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Corrie as Lady Ann, Richard III 2011

artists and incredible people, and played a large part in the progress I made as an actor in high school. I wanted so badly to be able to help my students as my AD’s had helped me. In typical Summer Shakespeare fashion, this new opportunity working with the cast of The Tempest pushed me beyond what I believed my limits were, and I couldn’t be more grateful. As I worked with students in the cast and watched them grow and gain confidence as performers, I discovered a new passion. Throughout the rehearsal process I was able to work with each of the cast members one-on-one on character development and basic acting technique. Over those two months I saw all of them–from newcomers to veterans of the program–discover new things about Shakespeare, theatre, and themselves. Never before had I considered directing as a path for me, but after this show I became more and more curious. I was overjoyed to be able to participate in such a wonderful production that sparked a new interest in me.

This year is a bitter-sweet one for me. Going in to my senior year of college, I know my

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Corrie as Henry V, Henry V 2013

time with this amazing program is coming to an end. I am filled with nostalgia as my last Summer Shakespeare production is a return to my first. While I hate to think this is the last year I will be so involved with the program, I am beyond excited for this groundbreaking production.

The mid-west, and especially these high school students from Appleton, have never seen the likes of this. I first learned of this “environmental” theatre in a Play Reading and Analysis class I took my freshman year of college. I remember thinking how interesting it would be to attend a performance in that style. I had no idea how soon I would be assistant directing one! Providing these students and the community around us with such a unique opportunity is a wonderful thing to be a part of.

This production is pushing the limits of every person involved in the most exciting and imaginative way. All of the students are eager to dive into this show. Every time we ask them for ideas the room sparks to life with new thoughts and excited imaginings. This is without a doubt one of the most focused and enthusiastic casts I’ve ever worked with. This positive and open attitude is providing a fantastic atmosphere during rehearsals and in brainstorming. I cannot wait to see how these students grow throughout this process, and how they change me in the process.

Thank you to Mr. Parker and everyone involved in the Summer Shakespeare program for the last six years for everything they have done for me. Here’s to a marvelous 30 years of the program, and many more to come!!

I encourage everyone to come see this remarkable production and even more remarkable students July 21-24 and 28-31 at The Refuge in Appleton!!!

A new kind of theatre for Appleton

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For the 30th anniversary of the program, director Ron Parker decided that he wanted to do something different to celebrate three decades of flourishing.

Last summer, he had been invited by the Refuge to set Summer Shakespeare’s production

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The Refuge, previously, Monte Alverno

of The Tempest on their grounds, next to the Fox River.  The Refuge used to be a local Catholic retreat center known as Monte Alverno, but has been transformed into the headquarters of FREEA (Fox River Environmental Education Alliance) and an artist retreat run by Cory Chisel and his sister Tara Pohlkotte.  Both siblings have close ties with Parker going back to their own high school theatre days, and were excited by the idea of bringing Summer Shakes into the Refuge’s lovely building and
grounds.

The place just didn’t seem right for The Tempest, though.  Parker remembers exploring the space:

“I went down into this clearing by the Fox River.   As I was standing there–at the

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Behind the Refuge

bottom of this sloping hill, looking at this open space– I Iooked up on the ridge, where there was this line of woods.  I walked up the hill and stepped amongst those trees, and it hit me that this would be an opportunity for us to do something this year, which would be a kind of theatre that I have never directed before–but I always thought would be really cool–and would really highlight the Thirtieth anniversary of Summer Shakespeare: an environmental production.”

Although it is popular on the coasts, environmental theatre (also known as ‘site-specific theatre’) has never been done in Appleton.  In this exciting movement, plays are not performed on a stage, but rather in the type of place where they are set.  The audience

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The Refuge chapel

follows the cast throughout the space as the action of the story moves from room to room.  Parker always wanted to do such a production because it allows the audience “to become a part of the setting,” and for the actors to be immersed in the roles they are playing.

Since A Midsummer Night’s Dream is set alternately in a palace and in a dark forest, the Refuge’s beautiful chapel and wooded grounds are the perfect place for the audience and actors to really experience what it would have been like for these characters to stumble confusedly through a fairy-haunted forest.

Parker points out that, in our 21st-century world, we are very disconnected from nature, and have a hard time imagining Midsummer’s perilous setting:

“Shakespeare understood very well what it is like to be in a forest at night.  Anyone who has spent any time in the woods after the sun has gone down realizes that it is a very mystical, magical, maddening place—where you can mistake a tree for a person or hold your hand in front of your face and not be able to see it.  Oftentimes–when you see Midsummer done on stage–people don’t quite understand how these four lovers couldn’t recognize each other or how they can be led around in circles.  But spend five minutes at night in a forest—without streetlights or anything else—and that answer’s that question.

So the audience can really have an experience closer to what was in Shakespeare’s mind than they can when it’s on a stage.  It’ll be an immersive theatrical experience that I think people will remember for the rest of their live—certainly the audience will, but also the students.”

Our actors had a hard time imagining the logistics of such experimental staging, but as

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The woods behind the Refuge

soon as Parker took the cast out to the Refuge one evening, everything began to click.  Suddenly, the actors took on their roles in new ways–the fairy king and queen changed how they moved as they imagined themselves one with the forest, the lovers realized just how easy it would be to lose sight of one another.

Environmental productions do change one major part of the usual theatre-going experience: there will be some walking involved.  While chairs will be set up at each location, the audience (limited to 50 for each performance) will have to be able to walk through the building and grounds with the cast.  The terrain can be uneven, but there will be a path to follow.  Lighting and an alternative location in case of rain will be provided, but we’d suggest wearing clothes suitable for being out of doors at night.

We hope you will celebrate with Summer Shakespeare it’s 30th anniversary and join us for this unique and immersive experience!

Performances will be July 21-24 and 28-31 at 7:30pm at the Refuge in Appleton.  Tickets will be available soon through the Appleton North office.

We’re back!

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13433183_496699120528689_1526309690453503889_o-2June is finally here, and Summer Shakespeare is back in action!  This summer, we are celebrating our 30th year!

To celebrate, we’re returning to an old favorite of ours: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This year, though, there is a twist:

Summer Shakes has always performed in the theater generously provided by the high school which houses it (first at Kenosha, then at Appleton North).  For many students, the theatre is a home and a haven.  It is a place to make magic and community.

This year, though, we are emerging from our Cave of Wonders to take our enchantments into the wilds.  We will be performing Shakespeare’s comedy of romance, a mysterious forest, and fairy magic at the Refuge in Appleton.

We are so excited to partner with Tara Pohlkotte and the wonderful work she is doing to give the arts a home in Appleton.

Give us a follow here or on Facebook or Twitter to keep up with the production as Summer Shakespeare performs outside for the first time in its history!