Ready, set, Shakespeare! OHHS drama club tackles “The Bard”

— Created September 22, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Get ready to see Shakespeare as it has never been seen before, unless one is familiar with “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged),” which is the fall production by the Oak Harbor High School Drama Club. Performances begin tonight (Wednesday) and continue Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. each night at the high school’s Student Union Building (SUB) stage. Cost is $12 for adults, $8 for children 12 and under. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Masks are required.

For those unfamiliar with this particular work, it is a fast-paced race through 37 of William Shakespeare’s finest works. Sort of.

“‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)’ is a comedy where three actors smush together all of Shakespeare’s plays into only two acts, while performing numerous monologues, frantically changing costumes, and having wigs fly everywhere,” summed up Alora Van Auken, a senior at OHHS and one of the play’s three cast members. 

“[The play] was developed through improvisation by three guys who wanted to have some fun with Shakespeare’s work,” described drama club advisor Melissa Gibson. “The audience should constantly be wondering what is improvised and what is scripted.”

Those with some familiarity of Shakespeare will hear bits and pieces of The Bard’s words interwoven throughout the on-stage antics, but this play is not meant to be a serious adaptation of his works. It is, however, intentionally laced with funny and quite often over-the-top, madcap moments, which just add to this production’s quirky charm.

“This show is not serious at all,” said OHHS senior Jessica Turner, who plays herself and many other characters throughout the course of the play. “You might come into it thinking we are going to talk about all of Shakespeare’s work in a scholarly way, but trust me, we don’t. We mess around on stage for 97 minutes and “pretend” like we are Shakespeare experts. Don’t be turned off by the title – Shakespeare can be boring, but this play certainly isn’t.”

AJ Gibson, also a senior, rounds out the cast.  While not a huge fan of Shakespeare, he said he is more than happy to take on this work if it means they get an opportunity to perform in front of an audience.

“Truthfully, I just enjoy the fact that we’re back on the stage and back to our ridiculous shenanigans, and this play is certainly chock full of shenanigans,” he said. “I had a decent amount of familiarity with Shakespeare before this, even having one or two of his monologues memorized, but I can’t say that he’s my favorite playwright. He has a very poetic nature about him, but constant poetry makes for confusing conversation, which is why I’m glad that in this play, myself and my castmates are the ones causing the confusion.”

Anyone paying attention to the calendar at this point may be wondering how the cast and crew have managed to mount a production in just the third full week of classes.

“In the spring, we were tossing around ideas, knowing that any fall production was not guaranteed,” Melissa Gibson explained. “Going full Shakespeare was not something that appealed to them, but this spoof version? I saw their eyes perk up. A three-person cast? My most dedicated seniors along with a couple of gung-ho sophomores? Awww yeah!

“With the pandemic still going on, I knew any fall production would have to have a small, dedicated group of students who would be willing to roll with whatever the challenges would be,” she continued. “During the summer, we met for table reads at my house and worked on staging in the backyard. We even had some virtual rehearsals when necessary. Working around vacation schedules was the hard part.”

The hours of work and rehearsals over the summer has been worth it, according to Gibson, who said the students are happy to be back on stage. 

“This cast is THRILLED to have the chance to do live theatre again,” she said, adding the bigger question surrounding the production was where it would be staged. “On stage? School courtyard? Parking lot? Up until a few weeks ago, the stage was being used for storage and any outdoor production would be subject to weather. We still don’t have access to all of our spaces, but the stage has been cleared so we can do our show.” 

And a small cast equals a very big challenge to the three actors portraying multiple characters .

“The most challenging and most special part of doing this show is that there are only three actors, which means we each had a third of the show to memorize,” said Van Auken. “It also means that we are always on stage and always under the spotlight, which is a lot of pressure. Thankfully, we have an amazing crew to help us out with everything else – costumes, props, lights, etc.”

“Since this show has only three actors, I’ve struggled with how many lines I have,” Turner shared. “It’s taken me a long time to figure it all out. Also, it’s challenging coming up with different ways to present each character; I want them each to be unique so the audience can differentiate between them.”

“For me personally, the quick changes have been intense,” said AJ. “Not that throwing myself into a dress and a wig and quickly changing shirts before exiting out into the intense heat of stage lights – all in about 20 seconds – isn’t fun, but it’s certainly tiring.”

Equally challenging is keeping up with all the different props and costumes that go with all the characters.

“I certainly knew how much work I was getting into, and there was quite a bit of extra sewing, gluing, painting blood on things, etc.,” said sophomore Maggie Garrett, production assistant and costume and props manager for the show. “But truly the most challenging part was likely staying quiet backstage when the rest of the crew and I had to whisper directions such as,’You give Jessica the boobs, I’ll take AJ’s wig and Alora needs a knife!'”

“The most challenging part of working on this play has been figuring out the props and costumes. since there are so many costume changes and props in this play,” said Sadie Marriott, part of the two-person backstage crew. She said she thinks audiences will appreciate the work the cast and crew have put into the production, along with the obvious contribution by Shakespeare.

“Working on the play has helped me realize that Shakespeare was more than just an author, he was a genius and showed his incredible work in all of his plays,” she said. “People will like this play because it is funny and super fun and exciting to see.”

“I think after this past year-and-a-half or so, seeing me make a complete fool of myself on the stage will give people a sense of normalcy again,” AJ said. “Beyond that. I think they’ll enjoy numerous jokes made out of Shakespeare’s tragedies.”

“This show has definitely shown a new light on Shakespeare,” said Van Auken. “This show brings his work into a more modern and funny context, which makes it way easier to comprehend. I think people will really enjoy the comedy of this production, whether they like Shakespeare or not!”