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Letting Shakespeare's plays speak for themselves

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The Adirondack Shakespeare Company is back for their third annual Summer Festival Season in the region. But don't expect lavish costumes or sets. The company prides itself in presenting Shakespeare "in the raw", without the need for traditional sets and props.

Todd Moe spoke with artistic director Tara Bradway, who is also one of the twelve actors in the company. This summer, they'll perform The Twelve Labors of Hercules, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead.

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Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer

Tara Bradway is the artistic director, and she is also one of the 12 members of the acting company this summer. The group faced the challenge of putting together performances with limited rehearsal time. The company’s process differs from similar theater groups that perform Shakespeare outdoors or during the summer months.

“Our company is really different, actually,” said Bradway. “A lot of theater companies will produce and rehearse shows for four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks. We rehearse each production for about 12 hours.”

Each actor in the company receives their roles a couple of months ahead of time and memorizes their lines and build their character. They are free to meet with other actors in the company to rehearse, but official rehearsals don’t begin until about two days before the production opens.

“We do that because we sort of like the idea of the pressure-cooker. We call our method ‘Shakespeare in the raw,’ which doesn’t mean that we’re naked, but it kind of means that the show is naked,” said Bradway. She explained that the company doesn’t use sets or scenery and has props that are suggestive. The use long dowels or sticks instead of swords and mime letters. The costumes are also not elaborate, and Bradway says they’re more like suggestive pieces such as hats or vests.

“We just try and take everything away from the show except for the words, so that’s really all the actors have to fall back on with only 12 hours of rehearsal. We’ll block fights so that those are safe, we’ll work on music, but we don’t actually run the show from the beginning to the end until the audience is present,” said Bradway.

This weekend, the company will be performing at the War Memorial in Congress Park in Saratoga, New York on Friday, July 20. They will be doing a couple of scenes every half hour, and in between the scenes, they’ll do a show and tell with kids. Bradway said, “They can come meet the actors, they can meet the monsters, see the masks, that kind of thing.”

The company has been performing shows for younger audiences as well as older ones. “We’ve had really an amazing experience producing, we do uncut Shakespeare as well. We make choices about what versions we’ll put into our scripts, but it’s based mostly on the first folio,” said Bradway. She says that in their first summer, the company produced Romeo and Juliet. Bradway remembers a family that had a four-year-old and a nine-year-old, and that the younger child sat mesmerized for the two and a half hour play.

“So I couldn’t encourage parents more to bring their kids to see the Shakespeare,” said Bradway. “Kids are so used to not catching every single word in a conversation anyway, and they’re just so open to the world and wanting to learn and really absorbing language at this young age. And I think once they get to middle school or high school, and they study it in the classroom, it’s such a different experience and this wall kind of goes up. You’re like, ‘No, I hate Shakespeare, I don’t understand it, it’s difficult,’ but that’s not the best way to be approaching Shakespeare. I think the best way to approach Shakespeare is to go see a show with a company that really knows how to speak the language and make it understandable, which we do, so I think it’s really accessible to everyone of all ages from very small four-year-olds all the way up to grandparents and seniors. Everybody’s really been enjoying it.”

This summer, the company is double-casting their performances of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. All of the actors who are in Hamlet are playing the exact same roles in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Bradway said, “So you really get to see both sides of that story. I know that a lot of people are excited about maybe one show or the other, but I encourage everyone to come and see both because you’ll get a really awesome full sandwich with that. I think it’ll be a really interesting way to get the whole story.”

According to Bradway, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead has changed the way contemporary audiences view Hamlet. She said, “I went to see Jude Law’s Hamlet a couple of years ago in New York City and whenever Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were on stage, there was just such a palpable, really different energy since everybody now knows R. and G. so well. It’s really cool.”

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