Directed by Professor Alex Torra of the department of theater, “As You Like It” gave audiences a rare chance to hear Shakespeare’s work performed in the dialect in which it was originally staged. The theater department’s latest production ran for four shows over the weekend of Nov. 11, featuring students taking Torra’s Production Ensemble course.
The decision to perform the play in Original Pronunciation was made by Torra, as Original Pronunciation and Shakespeare over the years are part of Torra’s ongoing research. In 2007, he became the first American to stage a show in Original Pronunciation, and several other production companies have since followed in his stead. Still, Torra explained, plays in Original Pronunciation are uncommon.
This particular staging of “As You Like It” was no easy feat. As with any theatrical production, the cast and crew faced a variety of obstacles, including only running the entire show from start to finish once before opening night and a last-minute change in casting.
“This is a funny experience for me because I’m really the dialect coach, but one of our students unfortunately got sick, and so I stepped in this week to play this part,” said Marla Burkholder, who played Oliver.
Despite the late notice, Burkholder agreed to take on the role of the malicious elder brother of the young lover Orlando, who was played by Catherine Campo, a sophomore at Bryn Mawr. According to Campo, the language of the play itself was another challenge.
“We all had a really hard time understanding it at first, and learning the dialect was such a difficult process, … but it was definitely worth it, and to have accomplished this, … I mean, I think it’s incredible,” said Campo.
The cast was initially worried that the audience would not be able to understand what was being said.
“There’s both the thickness of the language, and then adding that unfamiliar sound [of the Original Pronunciation] on top of that is, like, tricky,” Burkholder said.
However, the amount that the audience was able to appreciate pleased the cast and crew. Torra expected some of the more obscure, time period-specific jokes to go over the audience’s heads, and he found their reactions surprising.
“The plays are old. They’re from another time, and in a way, the work on the Original Pronunciation acknowledges that, … by saying that it belongs to another time [and another place] … It relieves a bit of pressure, and actually, when you relieve that pressure, you can hear more,” he said.
While most of the cast and crew were Swarthmore students and faculty members, Campo was not the only one from a different college in the Tri-Co: Margot Wisel, who played Jacques, and Emma Wells, who played Celia, are a junior and senior respectively at Bryn Mawr, and Assistant Scenic Designer Yoshi Nomura is a senior at Haverford.
Though she is not a student, Stage Manager Anne Ketcham was also new to Swarthmore. Scott Cassidy ’20, who has worked with her before and served as Production Manager, invited her to join the team as rehearsals had already begun, but the ensemble still lacked a stage manager. As it had been a while since Ketcham last worked with college students, she particularly enjoyed the cast’s energy, as she said professional actors tend to lose that enthusiasm.
“[The students are] all so excited to be doing the show, … and it’s cool because they’re learning about theater, and theater’s such a passion of mine that it’s nice to see people excited about it again,” she said.
Other crew members, who are part of the theater department faculty, were Scenic Designer Matt Saunders, Lighting Designer James Murphy, Sound Designer Elizabeth Atkinson and Costume Designer Laila Swanson. Additionally, Cassidy’s brother, Brett Cassidy, choreographed the two fight sequences in the play, and Rachel Pomerantz ’19 served as the assistant stage manager.
Besides his role as the Assistant Director, Simon Bloch ’17 appeared onstage in the roles of four different secondary characters, most notably the macho, mustachioed Charles. Marissa Cohen ’17 and Clarissa Grundstein ’20 also alternated between four secondary characters each, whilst Kendell Byrd ’17 was double-cast as both Duke Senior and his brother, Duke Frederick, and Elizabeth Balch-Crystal ’19 starred as the fair Rosalind.
The other cast members were Max Marckel ’19 (Touchstone), John Wojciehowski ’19 (Adam, Silvius), and Alex Kingsley ’20 (Amiens, Audrey). Kingsley’s role as Amiens led her to learn to play the accordion to accompany the songs in the show, which were sung by the cast.
The set design was unique in its simplicity, featuring elements such as a deer head mounted on the wall, love poems pinned to tree trunks, a small chandelier, and mulch strewn across the stage. The costumes were just as creative: Bloch appeared in a purple wrestling suit for his role as Charles, and Byrd, Wojciehowski, and Wisel wore hats crocheted with ears during their brief stint as sheep. With these technical aspects to support the acting, a tale of exile, hidden identities, and romance from 400 years ago was brought to life on LPAC’s Pearson-Hall Theater stage.
Following the success of “As You Like It,” Torra has high hopes for the future of theater at Swarthmore.
“The world is going through a lot of things right now; it has been for some time, and … it’s fun to do the Shakespeare play. It’s fun to enter this world, … but can we challenge ourselves to be introducing students and the community to what theater can do, as opposed to what it once was? So, that’s the thing I’m processing pretty deeply,” he said.