American Players Theatre
5950 Golf Course Road
P.O. Box 819
Spring Green, WI 53588
Box Office: 608-588-2361
This coming Friday, June 19, we make our first foray into Zoom Shakespeare with As You Like It, one of the Bard's most beloved comedies. Actors Melisa Pereyra and Nate Burger (seen above), and Voice and Text Coach Eva Breneman took some time from their busy schedules to chat with us about the process and the payoff.
As You Like It is one of those Shakespearean comedies that throw the gates wide to everyone from scholars to students. For starters, it largely takes part in a forest, a setting we are partial to at APT. But also, forests in Shakespeare always represent a place where the characters can go to truly find themselves – and typically find themselves for the better. So it’s not the trees that make this story so lovable, but what lies within them. There are bandits and wrestling matches. Songs and speeches (Seven Ages of Man, anyone?). Beautiful poetry and delightful characters and a world of conversations that bring real change to villains that could have been cast aside as irredeemable. And love. Love in disguise, love in the air, love pinned to the very trees. And, in this case, love on Zoom.
While there are many couples in As You Like It – including David Daniel and Colleen Madden revisiting their show-stopping roles as Touchstone and Audrey, characters they played in APT’s 2010 production – the swoony duo at the heart of this play is comprised of Rosalind and Orlando, played by Melisa Pereyra and Nate Burger, respectively. Orlando and Rosalind are a love-at-first-sight Shakespearean couple, who, through a bit of banishment and deception, are able to have true and deep conversations with each other about the nature of love.
Melisa and Nate, long-time members of APT’s core company, have been cast opposite each other surprisingly rarely, and both of them relished the opportunity to work together, even though they were never in the same room. Melisa said, “I loved getting to work with my colleague and fellow Core Company member Nate Burger…that remained constant.” And in addition to clicking as Rosalind and Orlando, working together on As You Like It helped prepare the two actors to play opposite each other again the very next week. Melisa continued, "I felt like we already had an understanding when we got to Arms and the Man [editor’s note: tune in June 26!].”
For his part, Nate said working with Melisa was his favorite part of the project. “She's so awesome and available and the camera just throws a spotlight on all the things that make her a really special person and artist.”
Though Rosalind and Orlando are clearly the it couple in this play, there is another love story here. One between an actor the character she embodies. Melisa played Rosalind in APT’s 2018 production of As You Like It. And beyond the obvious differences between playing this character on the Hill and playing her into a tiny lens at the top of a laptop, Melisa explained that those weren’t the only changes since her last go-round with Rosalind. “We like to say, as actors, that we go where the words take us. I feel like every cut of Shakespeare’s texts display the play through a slightly different lens. It was clear to me that John’s [director John Langs] cut had different goals than the one we worked on in 2018...but at the heart of the narrative this time around was a young girl daring to fight for her happiness. In the 2018 production, the way I understood the script, was more about indulging in love and embracing adventure. This Rosalind was more direct and less apologetic in the way she got what she needed in the play.”
The artistic lens may change, but apart from some cuts here and there, the language remains constant. APT has, over time, developed a world-class Voice and Text department, and the voice and text coach’s job is vast, from helping new-to-the-Hill actors project to nearly 1,100 people under the night sky, to providing dialect direction, and hundreds of adjustments to vocal tone and breathing in between.
Shakespeare, and the nuances within his writing, benefits hugely from a voice and text coach to help derive meaning from words written 400 years ago. Eva Breneman, who’s worked with APT for a number of years and was the voice and text coach for the As You Like It play reading, said that, surprisingly, her job hasn’t changed much from Hill stage to Zoom stage. Except maybe the commute. “During APTs off-season I work in Chicago, and I usually work on at least three or four shows at a time. So I’m either in my car or in a theatre—or a rehearsal room. ” That said, Eva said they’re able to do much of the same work in Zoom form “My favorite part of any project is the exchange of ideas in the rehearsal room; the conversation and discussion about the play and what’s going on. We definitely had some of that.”
And, it turns out, there are some upsides to on-camera work – even a when the camera in question is a web cam. Nate said, “It was really fun and interesting to be able to play in a more restrained way than you're allowed onstage, and more specifically, in a space that is as huge as the Hill stage. On the computer, people can see your eyebrow raising on a certain line or the inhale that a specific word induces. The Hill is less forgiving when it comes to nuance. So that was cool.”
Melisa agreed, saying “I got to relax and be in the safe environment of my own home and prepare to speak to a tiny camera on my computer for a couple of hours… I could be vulnerable for longer without losing the audience, speak quieter, and not worry about sightlines.”
But there were more personal benefits to this platform for Melisa, as well. She said, besides being awed by the hundreds of patrons who tuned into their laptops Sunday after Sunday, “My siblings, who have never gotten to see me perform live, were finally able to have access to my work. Both my older brother and my sister were able to watch from different parts of the world. It was overwhelming to know that they were on the other side. In that way, it has made me truly appreciate this platform, not forever, but until we get to see you in person again...it was nice to share art with people near and far.”
As You Like It
By William Shakespeare. Directed by John Langs.
Watch beginning at 7:00 PM CDT at PBSWisconsin.org
Featuring: Tracy Michelle Arnold (Jaques), Kelsey Brennan (Phoebe), Nate Burger (Orlando), David Daniel (Touchstone), Sarah Day (Madame Le Beau/Reverend Olive Martext), Jim DeVita (Charles/William), Alys Dickerson (Celia), Tim Gittings (Corin/Jaques de Boys), Gavin Lawrence (Silvius), Colleen Madden (Audrey), Brian Mani (Duke Frederick/Duke Senior), Melisa Pereyra (Rosalind), James Ridge (Adam/Hymen), Marcus Truschinski (Oliver/Amiens).
Jacki Singleton: Stage Manager. Joe Cerqua: Sound Designer. Voice & Text Coach: Eva Breneman.