Summer is just around the corner and theatre and concert venues are gearing up for outdoor performances — just what we need to get through this last bit of the pandemic. If you want to see an actual live performance, there can be none more creative and, well, just plain fun, than seeing a production of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company under the stars at the Patapsco Female Historic Park in historic Ellicott City, Maryland. This summer, CSC will be performing an abridged version of the Bard’s “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” which they have renamed, “The Adventures of Pericles.” It will be directed by Matthew R. Wilson, CSC’s Resident Director.
In the Shakespearean version, Pericles is more like Odysseus or Hercules. He travels and has many adventures. It is much more comedic than Shakespeare’s other historical plays. The villains get punished and the heroes win out in the end which makes this play very family-friendly. It also is an action-adventure with pirates, shipwrecks, and miraculous reunions.
The play features the following actors: Deimoni Brewington, Jose Guzman, Steven Hoochuk, DJ Horne, Lolita Horne, Chania Hudson, Molly Moores and Elizabeth Ung. Wilson’s creative team includes Sarah Curnoles as the production manager, Ali Januzzi as the assistant director, Grace Srinivasan as the music director, Dan O’Brien as the scenic designer and technical director, Kristina Lambdin as the costume designer, Kaydin Hamby as the sound designer, Mollie Singer as the props director, Lauren Engler as the stage manager and Rebecca Kleeman as the assistant stage manager.
I was very fortunate to be able to chat with Lesley Malin, CSC Managing Director about the CSC reopening and, in particular, “The Adventures of Pericles.” I was later able interview Matthew R. Wilson who directs the upcoming show.
Lesley Malin is a founder of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, and has served as its managing director since 2003. She oversaw CSC’s building renovation of a 1885 downtown Baltimore bank into a modern Shakespearean playhouse, as well as the associated $6.7 million capital campaign. She has performed in 28 CSC productions and, previously, in New York. For 20 years, she has been Vice President of the Board of Trustees of The Lark, a new play development center in New York City, where she earlier was the managing director. She served for five years on the Executive Committee of the international Shakespeare Theatre Association and organized its annual conference that CSC hosted in Baltimore in 2017. She is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, NYU’s Arts Management program, Leadership Howard County She is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, NYU’s Arts Management program, The LEADERship Baltimore (2018), and Leadership Howard County (2009).
Matthew R. Wilson previously directed CSC’s “Much Ado about Nothing” (2015) and performed in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare”(Abridged), CSC’s last show before the pandemic. He is a two-time Helen Hayes Award winner and seven-time nominee as an actor, director, playwright, and fight director. Directing credits include Second City’s “Twist Your Dickens” (Aurora Fox, Denver); “Act a Lady” (Hub Theatre); “One Man, Two Guvnors” (1st Stage); and “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” (Constellation Theatre, Helen Hayes Award nomination for Fight Direction), as well as physical comedy staging of “A Commedia Christmas Carol” (Helen Hayes Award nomination), “Our Town,” “A Commedia Romeo & Juliet,” “Hamlet,”“The Mandrake” and Molière’s “Don Juan” (Helen Hayes Award nomination) for Faction of Fools Theatre Company. Matt teaches at The George Washington University’s Corcoran School of the Arts & Design. He holds an MFA from the Academy for Classical Acting and PhD in Theatre & Performance Studies from the University of Maryland. He is a proud member of The Stage Directors & Choreographers Society. Matthew R. Wilson’s website.
A short chat with Lesley Malin:
When and how did you decide to start the season?
Our staff started discussing returning to a live production outdoors in February, when vaccinations seemed to be on the verge of being more generally available. We decided if we were lucky enough to have an established outdoor space, which so many other theatres lack, we ought to take advantage of it. We did establish a “kill-date” around Memorial Day in case the world took a turn for the worse but luckily, that didn’t happen, and ticket sales have been quite robust. We picked the title and the director in March, started planning in April, and cast the show in early May.
What safety rules are in place now and later in the run as I know state regulations are changing soon?
We are trying to keep things quite flexible. Our capacity was limited by Howard County when we started selling tickets and is now unlimited. But we are trying to do a kind of half-distancing for seating. We have elaborate health protocols in place for our (fully vaccinated) actors and production staff including a COVID safety officer. We are encouraging masks. We have eliminated intermission, shuttle vans from the parking lot, and food sales. Anything can change, and we are encouraging our patrons to be flexible. The vast majority are simply thrilled that we are returning to live performance.
Was “Pericles” chosen because it was slated to be produced before the pandemic or did you decide on this play for any special reason?
“Pericles” is not one of the major Shakespeare works and it’s quirky and sprawling. We chose it especially for this year in order to take advantage of our limited capacity by doing a “lesser-known Shakespeare play.” We also loved the idea that it might have been written during a plague, that it was the first Shakespeare play performed in the English Restoration after the closing of the London theatres for 18 years by the Puritans, and that it ends in a joyous reunion after a long family separation.
Will you be doing other plays this summer? Later on this year?
We are anticipating returning to performing in our beautiful indoor theatre in downtown Baltimore in the fall with a full production and, we hope, an educational school matinee production. We are watching carefully how indoor audience protocols will develop and what the actors’ union will require as we contemplate how to best reopen. We hope we will be reviving our annual “A Christmas Carol” tradition and then have a full spring of full houses of regular normal productions for audiences of happy students and patrons. Fingers crossed!
Digging deep into “The Adventures of Pericles” with Matthew R. Wilson:
Can you tell us a bit about how you, peronally, were affected by the pandemic?
I had the good fortune to perform in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged),” CSC’s last show during “the before times.” We had just opened when Baltimore theatres closed for the pandemic in spring 2020. I’ve thought several times this year about how lucky I was to have that experience as my last bit of in-person life to cling to, especially performing that particular show which included so much improv and talking directly with the audience. To be able to stand on stage and engage with that crowd on Sunday, March 15, 2020, during what we all knew was going to be our last live theatre for some time was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a playhouse. I expect the opening of “Pericles” will be just as momentous, and I’m honored now to be a part of CSC’s first show back — and one of the first shows back in communities around the world since our annual outdoor tradition allowed us to start planning for a safe return ahead of most venues that only have access to indoor spaces.
Which role do you prefer, directing, acting, playwrighting etc. and why?
I enjoy the variety, and, as a storyteller, it’s a privilege to spend my life traveling around other people’s worlds and inhabiting their stories. For me, it’s also a joy to work so many different roles in productions, and I find that each one teaches me how to be better at others. Directing comes with the opportunity to ask big-picture questions and envision how everything comes together, and I especially enjoy working with designers on these questions in pre-show planning. Design meetings are probably the biggest perk of directing for me because designers are so brilliant and bring such unique and different methods to how they make plays. Acting, on the other hand, allows you to let go of all of those big-picture issues and just obsess over one person’s journey and really advocate for your own character’s voice in all the tiny matters that no one else in the production has time to focus on. Of course, it comes with that direct connection with the audience, which, for me, is the whole point of live theatre in the first place.
“Pericles” is not typical Shakespeare. It is not British or Roman history. What is your vision of this production?
“Pericles” has had conflicting receptions since its origins. We now know that collaboration was a huge part of Elizabethan theatre practice. Shakespeare regularly worked with other playwrights, and actors exercised a lot of autonomy in what they said and did on stage (which is what Hamlet is complaining about when he encourages the Players to stick to the script!) While we now understand this fluid creative process a little better — critics have long seen “Pericles”as a collaboration, probably cowritten with the disreputable George Wilkins. For many, the fact that Shakespeare didn’t write every word made the play seem less important. Plus, we are at a disadvantage today because the earliest existing copies of the play have some errors and gaps. As early as Ben Johnson, critics who focus on plays as “texts” have dismissed “Pericles” as clunky and confusing. However, live audiences have always loved it! It was a success when it premiered in the early 1600s, and it was the first Shakespeare play produced decades later when theatres reopened in London after the interregnum period when the Puritans outlawed theatre and burned all the theatre buildings down. (It’s fitting then that it’s our first Shakespeare play back as the theatres reopen this year!) So, while people who just “read” the play may not rank it as highly as “Hamlet”or “R&J,” it’s always been delightful to audiences who “watch”the play. It has a huge cast of fascinating and quirky characters and tension-filled journeys from city to city — really epic stuff! So it’s fun to join the adventure and go along for the ride! And the payoff of Pericles’ wanderings and hardships is every bit as poignant as the most famous reconciliation scenes from Shakespeare’s marquee plays. I think “Pericles” is a perfect play to describe our long “travails” (which Shakespeare puns with “travels”) through the pandemic— loss and longing, and ultimately, the restoration that arrives just when hope seems out of reach.
“Pericles” is also one of the lesser known of the Bard’s works. What do you want to tell the production’s audience about the play itself and this production in particular?
From the moment we began to envision this show, the chief concern has been the safety and comfort of all involved. I began to imagine what a socially-distanced production would look like. What if the actors always stay six feet apart from each other? What if we never handed props to each other? How can you do audience involvement from afar without the old tricks of hiding next to them or eating their food or dragging them on stage? I just decided not to rely on all the easy old tricks. Instead, these safety issues because the concept of the show. It’s a play about distance and separation! The constraint of saying, “I’m going to block this play without people just walking over to each other and touching each other,” has opened up a lot of fun and meaningful moments. Imagine a love scene where two young lovers want to get together and make out, but they are always prevented from getting closer than six feet! That’s a fun metaphor for courtship. Just wait until you see how we pass newborn babies around without simply handing them to each other. It brings a new meaning to “contactless delivery”! By embracing distance as a concept for the show, I think we’ve actually found moments that are more powerful than just rushing back to “normal” and having characters touch each other willy-nilly. For all of us now, and for all of the characters in this play, it’s both a danger and a luxury to be able to connect.
But the play is also about PLAY. We are doing the show with eight actors, which means most of them play half a dozen parts and constantly changing hats. There is a chorus and a lot of music and pantomime built into the play, so it’s inherently “theatrical.” We are doing ours set on a “boat playground” — a jungle gym that plays like a ship, complete with a slide, ball pit, and trampoline! So, it’s physical, it’s playful, and it’s childlike. I think of the characters as little Playmobile people — just snap on a new shirt and a new hairpiece, and now you can play someone different!
Using the PFI Historic Park has its advantages and disadvantages. What do you enjoy about directing there and what is proving to be the most challenging?
The PFI Historic Park is an amazing space and venue. Newcomers are instantly wowed by the ruins and the bucolic surroundings. It also means letting go of amenities that come with indoor shows, including things as simple as easy access to electrical outlets. My directing process has been paperless for years, but now my laptop won’t hold a charge through all of rehearsal! It’s meant going back to a three-ring binder and a pencil, which has actually been a lovely break from the technological overdose of this year’s remote life. Also, directing a show outside means you don’t have as much recourse to lighting. The sun will barely have set by the time our Sunday evening performances are over, meaning that everything is in plain view — just as it was in Shakespeare’s Globe. You can’t rely on blackouts and spotlights. The actors have to work together much more as an ensemble to give and take focus and to craft whole stage pictures without the aid of lighting design to shape the world. All of these “low-tech” realities come with the opportunity to rediscover possibilities, and “rediscovery” is probably the watchword for me with this show and with our summer reemergence from the last year’s travails.
“The Adventures of Pericles” will run Thursday – Sunday from Friday, July 2, 2021 until Sunday, August 1, 2021. There are two preview performances on Wednesday, June 30 and Thursday, July 1. Kids under 19 are free if they come with an adult with a paid ticket. CSC’s Family Fun Days are back with preshow activities, including story time and crafts. For information go to their website. You can purchase tickets by calling 410-244-8570, visiting the Baltimore Box Office in person, or ordering online. Tickets are selling out as the seating is more limited due to Covid restrictions. So, hurry and get them soon.
Note: There are some changes due to the pandemic. There is no shuttle to and from the site, masks are recommended, and there are no food vendors or cash sales. There will be guided seating. There is a passenger drop-off, but someone will have to walk 1/5 of a mile uphill. Patrons can still picnic and bring beer and wine. Chairs are available, but you can bring your own chairs or blankets.