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‘As You Like It’ like you’ve never seen it

| Tuesday, February 4, 2014

WEB_Banner_AsYouLikeItEmily Hoffmann
Five actors, three performances, one play, no director and no set. With this sparse array of materials, the Actors from the London Stage (AFTLS) will bring back their unique performance style in Washington Hall this week with Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”

Housed at Notre Dame, AFTLS is one of the world’s oldest established touring Shakespeare theater companies. Joannah Tincey, one of the actors in the tour, said the challenging performance style is all about the audience.

“The real challenge is, how do you create something using just the words, with no set to speak of, when we’re each trying to play lots and lots of different parts?” she said. “I think it speaks to what theater is really about, because it’s about asking the audience to go with you and everything happening in the now.”

Tincey said the show is a game with the audience — on both sides of the curtain, everyone knows that the realistic element isn’t there. To switch characters, an actor will don a hat and a completely different accent. And to switch back, she’ll step out from beneath the hat and become a different person… while holding the hat up at head-level and feigning a conversation with it.

“That’s the thing — I put the hat on and now I’m that person, and now I take it off and now I’m somebody else,” Tincey said. “We create that spell with the audience and engage them with the story.

“You just look at the words and what you have, and think okay, that’s the foundation, so what do we do with that?”

Peter Holland, Notre Dame’s McMeel Chair in Shakespeare Studies, said this performance style lets the audience appreciate the beauty of the play and the text itself.

“What AFTLS does so extraordinarily well is direct our attention to the language. This isn’t a theater of excess,” he said. “Instead, it’s all about the power of Shakespeare’s language to create content and character with just words.”

The actors were cast near the end of last year, in a process Holland described as “basically, we take them to a rehearsal room in London and say bye, we’ll see you in five weeks and you’ll give us a show.”

“They have to find what kind of a show they’re going to do,” he said. “It becomes an extraordinary process of collaboration and teamwork where each of them has input in what it’s going to look like and how it’s going to go.”

For Tincey, the focus on words over props makes the performance more engaging for the audience because it “knocks down that fourth wall.”

“The actors have to be super clear with the text because we’ve only got the text to use, and maybe a hat or a scarf,” she said. “Our caretaking of that is a great way in for people. It’s not a passive experience.

“They have to watch us say, now I’m this person, now I’m that person, and that’s a far more active experience than reading it. We’re engaged in that game with you, which means you get far more out of it than you would otherwise.”

The five players on this tour are Jennifer Higham, Joannah Tincey, Dan Winter, Robert Mountford and Patrick Miller. Each plays a minimum of four roles on stage.

The show opens tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Washington Hall, with performances at the same time on Thursday and Friday. Regular tickets are $22, but student tickets cost $12. Tickets are available at the box office in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

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About Ann Marie Jakubowski

Senior News Writer, formerly Editor-in-Chief. English and Spanish double major, minor in journalism, ethics and democracy. Grand Rapids, Mich., native. Notre Dame Class of 2015.

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