Roasting Shakespeare with 'The Complete Works'

By: Matt Morgan,  Department of Performing and Media Arts
February 12, 2016

Director Jeff Guyton can’t remember the first time he heard the saying, but believes it’s the perfect way to describe his upcoming production, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] (Feb. 25-March 5). “If you love Shakespeare, you will love this play. If you hate Shakespeare, you will love this play.”

As the name suggests, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] is a theatrical whirlwind, taking all of Shakespeare's 37 plays and cramming them into one 100-minute performance. The pacing is fun and frantic with the cast of five student actors (Sam Morrison ’17, Jacob Kuhn ’18, Ezioma Asonye’16, Julie Locker ’16, and Christian Kelly ’16) alternating between improvised bits, high-brow theatre jokes, pop culture references like Miley Cyrus and Downtown Abbey, and melodramatic acting. 

“It’s going to be a lot of slapstick,” Morrison says. “It’s going to be a lot of surprise and audience interaction, character breaking, characters taking themselves too seriously. A lot of the show has nothing to do with Shakespeare.”

There are no characters in Complete Works, not in a traditional sense. The students play themselves playing actors who do Shakespeare poorly. Since the characters don’t have the refined ability to do Shakespeare, they do it their own way.

The result is a theatrical roast of sorts, a loving dismantling of the more ridiculous parts of Shakespeare’s work -- the overly intense emotion, the same recurring themes, everyone falling in love with each other -- all the stuff that drove you crazy in high school.

Kuhn, who is making his Schwartz debut in Complete Works, says the intensity and prestige of Shakespeare make it prime for mocking. He remembers playing Hamlet in a production several years ago and finding some of the more emotional scenes difficult to get through without breaking character.

“I was screaming and crying and angry but also kind of laughing at myself on the inside because it was so ridiculously overdramatic, but it’s what you have to do,” Kuhn says. “This play gives all the Shakespeare lovers the opportunity to finally focus on those things we laugh at and bring them out to light.”

Since there is no fourth wall in Complete Works, the actors will routinely interact with the audience and invite them into jokes. The setup of the Flexible Theatre will also add to the intimacy of the evening.

“You have to have the audience interacting with you to make the show what you want it to be,” Kuhn says. “I have no doubt we’ll do it because everyone on the show is amazing.”

Rehearsals were an exercise in purposefully controlled chaos, according to Guyton. Since each production of Complete Works takes on its own life, rehearsals aren’t just for practice but also brainstorming for new angles.

Guyton gave his actors carte blanche to take the script wherever they wanted, knowing their creativity would grow into the meat of the show. Also, with audience participation, the actors had to be ready to improvise.

Guyton says he knew he had a great cast after just the first rehearsal. During a warm up improv exercise, they let their creativity show.

“They went to Planet Debbie,” Guyton says. “These kids, they will go out there. Pluto is too conservative. They went to Planet Debbie.”

The open-ended element of the play is stressful, Kuhn says, but is alleviated some when you trust your fellow cast mates.

“I won’t lie. I’m a little nervous because there’s so much freedom,” Kuhn says. “But the people I’m working with are never afraid to take chances and make the biggest choices. So, I’m excited to see where they go.”

Purchase tickets for The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] online or stop by the box office at the Schwartz Center.

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