Iroquois to stage world premiere of Shakespeare on trial
Attending the world premiere of a new play does not mean you have to travel all the way to the Big Apple’s Broadway. To be one of the first to see a brand-new play, all that has to be done is to attend Iroquois Drama Club’s production of “Shakespeare on Trial” March 13 and 14.
This new production, featuring plays of old, is written by Anthony Giordano, a playwright and actor in numerous independent films and off-Broadway productions. His past plays, “Drama Club” and “Tap Dreams,” have been performed throughout the United States, Canada, England, Australia, and South Africa.
His newest play, “Shakespeare on Trial,” focuses around a modern-day high school where the senior class is asked by the Board of Education to decide whether or not Shakespeare will be taught the following year. What begins as a simple school assembly transforms into a full-blown trial, where the Bard’s work is examined and put to the test.
“I was a high school English teacher for many years. I absolutely loved Shakespeare, so I thought it would be interesting to have a play where many of the lines, there’s something like 20 or 30 quotations of Shakespeare, were in the play said Giordano. Also there is the idea that some people think that Shakespeare is not appropriate for high school students any longer, that it’s out of date. Well, I figured, why not let students put Shakespeare on trial and let them defend him?”
Giordano decided to list his play on the New York State Theatre Education Association Web site, in hopes of finding a school that could perform the initial run of the show to see what in the script worked, and what didn’t. He could then make the needed changes and send the improved script in for publication.
A school was found when Lisa Ludwig-Kramer, Drama Club director at Iroquois and managing director of Shakespeare in Delaware Park, contacted Giordano about performing the play.
“You know, I have such a great group of students, and I have to admit, they’re this excited every year, they love doing theater so much. But every year, you go to pick the musical or the play, and you see how many other schools are doing the same show you are doing. “So this is something I think that they are very excited about, the opportunity to do a show that absolutely no one has ever done before,” said Ludwig-Kramer.
The enthusiasm of Iroquois drama students was clearly evident at auditions in early February, when more than 60 students auditioned for what was originally 18 roles. Though more parts were added to up the number of roles to 28, Ludwig-Kramer felt the excitement of students who did not get a part should not go to waste. She came up with the idea of having students without parts perform Shakespeare monologues, sonnets and small scenes in the lobby before the show and during intermission.
As students will be performing bits of Shakespeare both on stage and in the pre-show, Ludwig-Kramer felt they should see Shakespeare performed live by professionals. Prior to auditions, the Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s Shakespearience troupe came to Iroquois to perform “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Play,” a piece with a variety of Shakespeare’s works, and to work with the students on their acting. “One of the things I strongly believe in is that Shakespeare is not only meant to be read, it’s meant to be heard. A lot of time, in schools, reading Shakespeare, they don’t get to see it spoken live on stage. Once they see it, it energizes them,” said Ludwig-Kramer.
Many of the students, such as junior Victoria Pacuzzi, 16, were nervous about acting out Shakespeare’s work. Much like her anti-Shakespeare character Parker, Victoria was not the biggest Shakespeare fan prior to the show. “I was a little scared because I struggled with it in school sometimes and I was worried if I could pull it off, but it’s going really well,” she said.
Performing pieces written in the 16th century wasn’t the only challenge facing the cast. Another challenge was performing a newly written show. As the script is still in revision, students would get updates from Giordano periodically with changes in the script and rewrites. “We all know it is a work in progress. I will jokingly say that the script is certainly not Shakespeare,” said Ludwig-Kramer.
The students are adapting very well to the process, she said. They’ve come to accept that while they may have already memorized their lines for Scene 3, at any time their director could walk in with an e-mail saying it has all been changed. More than anything else, students are excited about what is perhaps a once in a lifetime experience.
“To work for someone you never see, it’s kind of like being Charlie’s Angels. You never see who you’re working for, you only hear from him,” said senior Annie Haselswerdt, 18.
Giordano is coming to meet the cast the day before opening night and will hold a talkback with the cast and the audience after the first performance.
“I was really excited when we found out we were doing a new play because I would be creating a character who no one has ever seen or heard of. You can leave behind something that other actors can look at. I’ma little nervous, though. I hope that the image that he [Giordano] had of my character, I hope that I can fulfill them,” said Annie.
Equally excited about the opportunity is the playwright. In the past, he hasn’t always had the chance to see his plays performed, so he is looking forward to seeing how the students have interpreted what he wrote on the page.
“It’s great to work with students because they really put their heart and soul into it. This will now be the original cast. They will create the characters. Often the play I have in my head, isn’t the play I see. Very often, it’s much better than I imagine, because they bring something that I don’t imagine to it. I love going to people later, and saying, ‘You played a much better character than I wrote.’ I’ve never been disappointed, actually,” said Giordano.
Iroquois will stage “Shakespeare on Trial” at 7 p. m. March 13 and at 3 and 7 p. m. March 14. Tickets are $8, $6 for students and senior citizens and will be available at the door one hour before curtain. Call the Iroquois Drama Club hotline at 652-3000, Ext. 3001.