Friday, July 27, 2007

The Play's the Thing...In the Library, That Is

After doing two performances of Twelfth Night in one day, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey NextStage Ensemble is tired. But you wouldn’t be able to tell from the performance of Henry IV, Part I, they put on in the Jefferson Township Public Library. Brandishing fake black swords like light sabers and giving very real stares of vengeance and honor towards each other, the small group probably spoke louder than anybody else has in the history of the Jefferson Township Library.

And though there were only twelve cast members to portray the nearly forty roles that make up this sprawling spectacular of a play, all your favorite characters (if you’re a Shakespeare fan, that is) were there, including the heroic King Henry, the mischievous Prince Hal, and even the bumbling braggart Falstaff. All of whom usually found themselves darting behind the metal braced “curtain” hanging in the back only to return with different wardrobes and an accent thick with tension.

“I think more libraries are trying to have events [like this] because if gives the area more ‘cultcha,’” joked Senior Librarian, Christine O’ Brien, who pronounced “culture,” like “cultcha” while raising her chin as if she were a YALE alum speaking of her Alma mater.

“We have activities all throughout the summer, like foreign films, musical groups, photography classes…it gives people something to do in the town.”

While she talked, the crew practiced a big fight scene on the “stage” and was told to stop a few times by Jack Moran (“It’s Irish”), who played Hotspur, among others. He warned them not to thrust too far off to the left because people would soon be sitting in the seats they were waging war next to. Careening out of character for only a few moments, once they started up again, they all began clacking their fake, black swords together as if they were actually swinging around swords of real steel.

And as the clacks continued, over in the corner crouched tour manager, Meghan Conda,, who set up the sound and shifted from left to right on her haunches while she made sure the auditory boomed just as loud (if not louder) than the actors themselves.

“I help them pack the van, drive, contact venues, and took over the paperwork,” says Meghan, who’s part of the intern program at NextStage and looking to be a stage manager after she works at a few more places.

“I didn’t study theater in college, and we’re all mostly interns,” says Meghan, who calls her fellow van mates, “aspiring actors.”

Aspiring actors or not, every cast member acted like a professional, swinging their arms, spinning around, and ignoring the audience while delving deep into their characters, not one of them stumbling on their words; or, for that matter, even breaking a sweat.

“We really run a lot,” says Matthew Simpson, who played King Henry and donned a makeshift crown throughout a majority of the play. “We probably do up to 20 miles a week and sleep in the van [when we travel].”

A pretty hectic schedule indeed, but luckily, one they don’t have to keep up with for the entire year. This particular Shakespearean group performs throughout the summer, while the other Shakespearean group, Shakespeare Live, takes over during the school year, which some of these students have to return to once the summer’s over. One of whom being Pressly Coker, who probably had the most menacing scowl on his face throughout the entirety of the play.

Performing mainly as the Earl of Westmoreland, Pressly hails all the way from the University of South Carolina and joined NextStage (everybody had to audition, mind you) just because he really “likes the theater.”

A theater major back home, Pressly also performed Richard III (playing Richard, but not for the entirety of the play as many people portrayed the hunchbacked megalomaniac in this rendition) and studied the mannerisms of crippled people to nail the challenging character to a tee.

Still, Pressly, who’s also minoring in advertising and public relations, isn’t positive he’ll make it in acting, but he’d certainly like to try.

“Who knows?” he says, smiling a half-smile, “One day, I might be driving a potato truck for a living.”

Potato truck or not, if he works his butt of like he does on a library carpet (a far cry from the Globe Theatre, but a better conduit for static electricity) he’s sure to go far. And that’s not just because he’d be driving in a truck.


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