Michigan Shakespeare Fest: Good actors make good Shakespeare
"Shakespeare's plays are never about the day nothing happened. They're always about the day something amazing happened," says Janice L. Blixt, artistic director for the Michigan Shakespeare Festival.
Something amazing happened several summers ago in Jackson, Michigan. In the ‘90’s a bunch of high school kids wanted to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A replica of the Globe Theatre stage was built in a park and Shakespeare was performed every summer.
Make me a willow cabin at your gate, and call upon my soul within the house; Write loyal cantons of condemned love - 'Twelfth Night' by William Shakespeare
As more professional actors, designers and technicians were used and as they were building it into a regional theatre festival, performances moved into the Potter Center at Jackson Community College. It is a reparatory company with 14 actors who will perform three plays.
Gerry Blanchard is Chair of the Board for the Shakepeare Festival. He says the actors will perform Twelfth Night this year, one of the most popular plays.
“It’s one these plays where the female twin and a male twin are mistaken for each other and lots of crazy identities, and the girl is dressed up as a boy. So, high jinks ensues," says Blixt. "It’s one of the funniest of his plays. But wrapped in that is some of the most beautiful language: ‘If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it.'”
Shakespeare’s considered a genius whose plays have survived for 400 years. Blixt says that when people see good productions of Shakespeare, they understand it better.
“Shakespeare was not meant to be read. It was meant to be performed," she says. "And the actors that we hire are all very good at Shakespeare. Part of this job is being well trained in Shakespeare, well trained in verse, well trained in language.”
Some of the plays in this season's festival will be King John and She Stoops to Conquer. Well-known Michigan actor Paul Riopelle is playing King John in King John, a tragic and giant role. Blanchard says that King John isn’t performed very often. But in the play She Stoops to Conquer, Riopelle has a smaller, more comedic role.
“There are people who go to theatre and there are people who don’t. We watch television and we watch movies and when we see people going to the theatre, they’re wearing tuxedos and ball gowns and it’s always an opening night extravaganza," says Blixt. "So, the first thing that I like to do is that I like to invite people to the theatre. One of the things that I always want to put on the website and I never have, I want to say, ‘Just show up. We’ll wear the costumes.”
“The energy is alive. What is happening is happening right there. And you’re there to see it and you’re a part of it. The sheer connection that takes place," says Blixt. "This is about pure humanity. It’s about honor. It’s about love. It’s about hatred and desperation.”