I have to give props to young actres Molly Grotha--after a grueling opening night she made it to the KSMU studios this morning right on time, to come on "Arts News" to promote Actors Theatre of Missouri's production (in association with The Dangerous Playground and Rice Theatricals) of the chaotic, wildly funny spoof of The Bard and all 37 of his known plays (!), "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" in the "revised" version by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. It's performed this weekend and next (Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:00pm in the Outdoor Amphitheater between the Springfield Art Museum and Phelps Grove Park on Brookside Drive west of National.
Simply described, the show mashes up EVERY Shakespeare play in comically-shortened or merged form, all in one evening--and all performed by only three actors! Joining Molly Grotha are John Emery and Helen George. Jordan Thomas is the director.
Now, what about this "revised" version? Molly Grotha says that if you've seen the show already, "there were just a couple of jokes removed and changed, around 2005 or '06, I think, just to adapt to the times, make it more 'modern,' more 'PC' for today's audience." (Not that Shakespeare himself ever seemed to worry about political correctness!)
But how do you boil 37 Shakespeare plays down to two hours, with only three actors? "It's pretty intense! It definitely feels like a Shakespeare overdose, pretty much. We touch on ALL 37 of them at least once. We start with 'Romeo and Juliet'--that one is a bit longer, you get more of the meat of it. But some of them we just skip right through and say, 'this actor did this,' and 'we killed that guy,' and then it's over!" And let's face it, as great as was Shakespeare's oeuvre, how often does one see (or indeed WANT to see) a full production of, say, "Titus Andronicus"?
Molly Grotha says she's never performed Shakespeare (the real thing) before, while her two colleagues are much more experienced in the genre. She describes the authors of this Shakespeare spoof as "evil geniuses! They were like, 'We can do it, so other people can do it too! And we'll put 'em through a full body workout as well.'" The "workout" comes complete with "props flying around... we are sweating. I'm sure the audience got some 'splash' last night! By the end of the show I think we (actors) were all ready to lay down on the stage and go to bed. It's pretty draining--but it's a great time."
The audience isn't thrown into the fray completely unprepared, says Grotha. John Emery comes out at the top of the show with a brief explanation of what's about to happen. "And we start getting (the audience) involved at that point as well, because the audience is a crucial part of the show, actively involved. People come up on the stage, people are running around on the floor around us, people are throwing their arms in the air--so we hope. That's our goal."
She says there is actually an overall narrative storyline arc to the presentation. "I think each of us have our own 'characters' that come across--in addition to all the characters of Shakespeare that they're playing--and are going through their own qualms with each other, they're bickering and trying to figure out who's going to play what and which play are we gonna do next. But that's when the audience gets involved and gets to be a fourth party who negotiates." The audience doesn't necessarily choose which Shakespeare play the actors will do next--that's all outlined in the script. Still, one never knows from night to night what's going to happen in such a frenetic, fast-paced production. In other words, there's always a bit of improv or ad-libbing, usually borne of necessity, says Molly Grotha. "Last night, one prop was not in the right place so I just improvised and grabbed a different prop. And it ended up, like, three times funnier. So I was like, 'Well, that works too!'"
Performances of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare" (Abridged) are Fri and Sat May 26-27, and Thurs-Sat June 1-3 all at 7:00 pm in the Springfield Art Museum outdoor amphitheater. In case the weather doesn't cooperate (or, as on opening night, there were technical difficulties outdoors), the production will be moved inside to the Art Museum auditorium. The production is free and open to the public, but donations will be appreciated. A food truck from London Calling Pasty Company will be on hand offering concession goodies before curtain and at intermission. For information visit http://www.sgfmuseum.org.
The production is free and open to the public-- bring a lawn chair or blanket for seating. In case of inclement weather, the production will take place in the Museum's auditorium.