June 13, 2013

Verily we role along

Acorn Productions' outdoor Riverbank Shakespeare Festival brings not one but two shows based on works by the Bard.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Christine McNamara readily admits, “a lot of people think I’m crazy.” She works two full-time jobs, but manages to find time to add a little Shakespeare to her acting tool kit. McNamara is among the actors who will star in the Riverbank Shakespeare Festival, hosted by Acorn Productions. The festival, which opens Friday at Riverbank Park along the Presumscot River in Westbrook, features two shows: “The War of the Roses,” directed by Michael Levine, and “The Tempest,” directed by Karen Ball.

click image to enlarge

Kara Haupt, Tristan Rolfe, Matt Power and Jessica Labbe will perform Shakespeare in the park.

Courtesy photo

IF YOU GO

RIVERBANK SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL

WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Friday; 2 and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

WHERE: Riverbank Park, Main Street, Westbrook

HOW MUCH: $10/donation

INFO: 854-0065; acorn-productions.org.

Both shows feature actors who have taken on the challenge of Shakespeare for the fun of it. Because of the Elizabethan-era language, Shakespeare is considered difficult text for actors to master. But it’s also rewarding.

“I really enjoy the language and learning how to speak the language,” said McNamara, who plays Margaret in “The War of the Roses” and is a dental hygienist in her other life. “I enjoy learning the meaning and what is actually being said. The structure of the language is quite different than how you and I would talk.”

An abridged, one-hour version of “The Tempest” includes teen actors in Acorn’s Young Actors Shakespeare Conservatory, while “The War of the Roses” features new apprentices from the Acorn Shake- speare Conservatory, a training program for older actors.

“The War of the Roses” melds elements from the three parts of “Henry VI” into one full-length play full of political intrigue, swordfights, backstabbing and English history. Levine compiled the text for the show, stripping it of its subplots and focusing on the political action.

Acorn began its Shakespeare conservatory in 2005. Its actors are best known for performing stripped-down versions in the Naked Shakespeare series, often performing in bars and casual settings without sets or costumes. The idea is to focus on the language and meaning of the words.

The Riverbank Shakespeare Festival extends that idea. These shows are fully developed, but presented with minimal costumes and sets.

The apprentice program attracts actors who have an interest in Shakespeare that was typically kindled in school, then allowed to smolder in adult life. The Acorn acting programs give actors a chance to refuel their interest in Shakespeare, Levine said.

“We usually attract people who are very interested in language first and foremost,” he said. “Some of the folks are actors looking to deepen their ability to work with classical text, but it’s mostly people who are interested in Shakespeare and read it for fun.”

“I joined the apprentice program to get back into theater, but also as a challenge,” said McNamara. “I had never done Shakespeare before. I had done other kinds of theater, mostly comedy. But never Shakespeare.”

Her story is shared by many.

“I’ve always had a good experience with Shakespeare,” said Dominica Coulson, who was born in South Korea, raised in England and now lives in Portland. “But I never thought I’d be discovering acting Shakespeare in Portland, Maine.”

Coulson is playing Prince Edward, Henry’s son, in “The War of the Roses.” “I love the fact that I am going to be a young prince,” he said. “He’s a very idealistic character, and what I enjoy is trying to be prince-like. I enjoy the battle scenes as well. I’ve never had a swordfight.”

“I wanted to delve back into Shakespeare after doing musical theater,” said Jessica Labbe, 24, who lives in Saco and acts at City Theater.

Labbe studied Shakespeare in middle and high school, and worked in musical theater at Smith College. She plays Richard Duke of Gloucester in “The War of the Roses.”

“It’s been fantastic. Mike and the others at Acorn instill in you the importance of delving down into the text,” she said.

(Continued on page 2)

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