Saturday, June 29, 2019

In The News: "Review: Female-forward 'Hamlet' didn't seem unusual. It just seemed good"

Review: Female-forward 'Hamlet' didn't seem unusual. It just seemed good

By Drew Neneman / World-Herald correspondent

It wasn’t “Hamlet” as usual.

But the cast of William Shakespeare’s longest tragedy made it easy to forget that.

Nebraska Shakespeare’s production of the play used female actors in strategic gender and role reversals, most notably the title character, played by New Yorker Genevieve Simon. Other females in male roles included Amelia Ampuero as Cornelius, Tolu Ekisola as Rosenkrantz, Miranda Neuhaus as Reynaldo, Sophie Netanel as Laertes and Tricia Mancuso Parks as Polonius.

It premiered Thursday night in the usual spot, Shakespeare Park, nestled between the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus and Elmwood Park. It will alternate nights with “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
Interim Artistic Director Sarah Lynn Brown explains in the program that the 2019 season is being produced as “Female Forward.” The entire cast of “All’s Well” is made up of women.

With artful direction from John Hardy, the gender-reimagined cast in “Hamlet” seamlessly slipped into the text and the action. The actors and their characters transcended gender roles to illuminate human and political archetypes in a compelling way.

The play tells the classic story of Prince Hamlet, who was in line for the throne in Denmark when his father died. Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, not only seized the throne before that could happen, but he married Hamlet’s mother, much to the son’s disgust. A ghost visits Hamlet and tells him that Claudius poisoned the king and that Hamlet should seek revenge. Hamlet feigns being crazy to investigate the ghost’s claims. It appears that Hamlet may be descending into madness for real as he pursues his quest for justice.

Simon was fantastic as Hamlet. Her approach to the tormented character was lively and multifaceted. In the wrong hands, it’s easy to make Shakespeare’s tragedies into something resembling a bad B-movie, with long tapestries and belabored cries of passion. Simon’s “Hamlet” was a fresh young prince full of humor, lust, affection, loyalty, tenderness and intensity.

Henry Ragan’s portrayal of Horatio was notably touching. Horatio is a character who can be easily swept aside in the audience’s perception of the story. Ragan did an incredible job of making Horatio’s observations and sympathies an endearing foil for the audience’s own relationship with the tragic events that unfolded.

Brown has said one of her goals was to make Shakespeare on the Green more accessible. To me, the “Hamlet” experience was poignant and immersive. The synopsis in the program had “hashtag” asides that commented pointedly on the plot. The Scholars Program prior to the curtain offered insight into stage direction.

Executive Director Mary Ann Bamber gave a lighthearted welcome that illustrated the relationship of the “Hamlet” story to our own arts culture, most particularly the 1994 cartoon and 2019 summer feature film “The Lion King.” Just before the opening curtain, “Shakespeare Rundown,” with a cast of six young players, presented “Hamlet” in five minutes or less, a new feature.

I was initially skeptical of those sweeping efforts. The “hashtags” and gender swaps flew in the face of my arguably conservative theatrical background that’s full of notions about “the author’s intent” and “historical context.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

In The News: "Preview: Hamlet is a girl, and other info about the second Shakespeare On The Green play"

Preview: Hamlet is a girl, and other info about the second Shakespeare on the Green play

By Betsie Freeman / World-Herald staff writer

A couple of things are notable about the actor who plays the title character in “Hamlet,” the tragedy premiering this week at Shakespeare on the Green.

To begin with, she’s female (as are some other traditionally male characters in the play.) And she’s based in New York City, where she has performed in other Shakespeare works.

The actor is Genevieve Simon, who as a playwright has developed new works with the Ensemble Studio Theatre, Bluefaces Theatre Company and Columbia University.

Nebraska Shakespeare interim artistic director Sarah Brown said it makes sense to cast women in male Shakespeare roles if your goal is parity among actors.

Because Shakespeare wrote so many roles for men, women thespians who want to specialize in his works find fewer jobs than their male counterparts.

With other theater professionals, Brown is committed to “50/50 by 2020,” an initiative to make sure theaters are hiring casts that are roughly gender equal and to provide equal pay for women as well.

The ultimate goal remains the same, she says: to produce a compelling show.

“I just want to tell stories honestly regardless of gender,” she says.

Thursday, June 20, 2019


Guys! It's OPENING NIGHT for Shakespeare On The Green!

In The News: "Shakespeare on the Green is new and improved"

Shakespeare on the Green is new and improved, and the twists begin Thursday night

By Betsie Freeman / World-Herald staff writer

William Shakespeare is a very old guy. That doesn’t mean he’s set in his ways.

Directors, producers and actors around the world put their special spins on Shakespeare every day. Some ideas might be bolder or better than others, but all have the same intent: keeping a 17th-century playwright and his plays fresh enough to draw audiences.

With her staff and actors, Nebraska Shakespeare interim artistic director Sarah Brown is shaking up this year’s Shakespeare on the Green. It begins Thursday night at Elmwood Park with “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

Brown, who had been the organization’s director of education, is putting her mark on both the plays and the atmosphere at the 33-year-old festival.

“I’m excited to try new things out,” she said. “I’m looking to make it more accessible. A lot of people think it’s something that’s not for them.”

Nebraska Shakespeare is adding several things leading up to the play each night. Benson First Friday’s MaMo, a traveling art gallery in a repurposed semi-trailer, will be on-site featuring works by local artists. And in addition to the wandering medieval song troupe Madrigali et al, a local musician will play onstage each evening as an opening act.

Members of the company will present a five-minute onstage synopsis of the evening’s play before it begins, so people will be better prepared for Shakespeare’s language, themes and plotlines.

The new activities join popular longtime features such as the nightly scholars forum, in which members of the company discuss Shakespeare’s text, production and relevant contemporary topics, and the recitation of winning works in the annual Anne Dittrick Sonnet Writing Contest.

There also are a number of theme days:

This Friday is Ladies Night (attend with your pals, co-workers or members of various women’s organizations).

June 29 is Family Night (face-painting and other activities for kids).

July 2 is Educators Night (wear your school apparel, come with fellow teachers and, with an ID, get food and beer discounts).

July 3 is Late Night Hamlet (a special 10 p.m. performance of the play that alternates with the opening piece).

July 5 is Red, White and Blue Night (wear patriotic apparel to extend the Independence Day celebration).

“It’s more accessible and more fun,” Brown said.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

In The News: "Irreverent, all-female 'All's Well' opens 2019 season for Shakespeare on the Green"

Irreverent, all-female 'All's Well' opens 2019 season for Shakespeare on the Green

By Betsie Freeman / World-Herald staff writer

Gender is always a subtext when you consider the works of William Shakespeare.

In his time, men played female roles because women were prohibited from performing. More recently, women have played traditionally male roles such as Hamlet and Richard III.

Nebraska Shakespeare recently has mixed it up, offering “The Taming of the Shrew” with an all-male cast in 2016 and creating a female performance group, Juno’s Swans, which has performed various Shakespeare plays outside the yearly Shakespeare on the Green in Elmwood Park.

This year, interim artistic director Sarah Brown is bringing Juno’s Swans to the main festival. She will direct an all-female cast in “All’s Well That Ends Well.” It opens Thursday night at Elmwood Park as the first show in this year’s Shakespeare on the Green season, Nebraska Shakespeare’s 33rd.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

#NEShakesEDTalks - The History of All's Well That Ends Well

This week's video: All's Well That Ends Well's History! 

Most people don't know much about Shakespeare's play, All's Well That Ends Well. What we do know is pretty interesting! Check out this week's video in anticipation of our OPENING NIGHT of All's Well That Ends Well at Shakespeare On The Green next week.

Join us each Thursday for a new topic!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

#NEShakesEDTalks: History of Hamlet

This week, we talk about Hamlet and the history of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy.

Join us every Thursday for a new topic!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Soul of Wit - Two for the Price of One!

This week's Soul of Wit NON-podcast features our youngest company member AND the costume designer for All's Well That Ends Well!

Shakespeare On The Green is just around the corner.  It starts June 20th!