West Side Theater
So many local theater companies in Hudson County don't have a permanent space, which makes planning performances a bit rough. Luckily for The Actors Shakespeare Company, they recently made a deal with New Jersey City University to become the resident theater company for the West Side Theater.
In 2004, The Actors Shakespeare Company approached New Jersey City University with the idea, and the school agreed to try their plan to see if it would work. The partnership was successful and they agreed to keep the company on full-time.
The West Side Theater is also called a black box theater because it has the audience on three sides in a very intimate space, which works great for any of Shakespeare's works that are meant to be played to the audience. The company plans to put on two full productions a year, plus two of the Bare Bard reading series.
The collaboration also includes a mentorship for the students at New Jersey City University. For their spring production of Hamlet, there will be roles open for student interns. The young actors will have an opportunity to have a seasoned mentor and to have their own night of performances.
The company has been together for five years. They are dedicated to performing the works of Shakespeare, even trying to duplicate how the plays are performed. According to Colette Rice, Artistic Director, there weren't any directors in Shakespeare's time. They had one person called a bookkeeper who was similar to a stage manager, but no one guiding the actors in each scene. The work was done mostly alone.
"How they shaped their performances, we just don't know," said Rice. "Clearly he was writing for a particular work style. We just don't know what that was."
In Elizabethan Theater, there was one copy of the play so other people couldn't steal it. The actors all had their own parts on a separate piece of paper with cue lines in the margin. The Actors Shakespeare Company works the same way, learning their own parts separately before rehearsing together.
"The individual work is so important," said Rice. "I think a lot of actors today don't get that. We really get to know our characters."
In addition to her duties as Artistic Director, Rice will also perform the role of the chorus and the King of France.
"It's my first performance on stage in three years," said Rice. "I'm really looking forward to it. It's what we live for. It's why we do this."
The all female cast for Henry V was decided on as a way to give the women members of the cast more opportunities to perform, and not just in the comedies as someone's love interest. There are 14 actresses in the play, many of which who are performing several roles.
"We choose Henry V because it is a very male play and we thought it would be great to perform as a group," said Rice.
During the rehearsal process the women have been working alone with the play master, Colin Ryan.
"It's fully staged but we never know quite what we are going to have," said Rice. "You have to listen very carefully and be spontaneous, but women are good at that."
Susanna Baddiel, one of the founding members of the company, plays the lead role of King Henry. According to Baddiel, playing the lead role is somewhat easier than a smaller part because "you are driving the car" and setting the pace. In a smaller role you have to follow what is going on around you.
"Playing a male, the language is sometimes more moving and challenging, as the situations men deal with are different," said Baddiel. "Henry is in the middle of a war, fighting battles, keeping up the morale of his troops, which creates a certain color to his language. There is a lot of great poetry in Henry's stirring speeches, the breadth of the character is exciting to play."
Colin Ryan, the play master, has been with the company for almost three years. Ryan is working with the actors on their individual performances and also worked on editing the play down to about 90 minutes. According to Ryan, the edits are a collaborative process, particularly with Susanna who plays Henry. One of the goals of ASC is to make the most actable and stage worthy choice.
Ryan foremost hopes to engage the audience in the story.
"More specifically, I'm hoping to highlight the deep intersection of personal and political in Henry, the man and the play," said Ryan. "And hopefully point out what I think is an interesting theme of the work, namely that people can be so many things at once. [Henry is] a heroic leader and a cynical opportunist. Along the way, I really want to tell an exciting, moving and sometimes funny story of war and adventure."
The Actors Shakespeare Company performs Henry V one day only. The free event is on Thursday, Nov. 17 with performances at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. The West Side Theater is located at 285 Westside Avenue. For directions or reservations please call, (201) 459-1117 or visit, www.ascnj.org.