UNC Greensboro School of Theatre students will perform a musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” opening on Sept. 24 at Taylor Theatre. Faculty members Randall McMullen, Dominick Amendum, Eric Speer, John Gully, and Chip Haas have worked alongside MFA candidates to create this Shakespearean comedy that explores love.
The show will have five evening performances at Taylor on Sept 24, 25, 29, Oct. 1 and 2 at 7:30, and one afternoon performance Sept. 26 at 2 p.m. The show will be available streaming online Oct. 14-16. A Frame/Works discussion will take place via Zoom on Oct. 18 at 7:30.
For tickets, call the UNCG Theatre Box Office at 336-334-4392 or click here to purchase tickets online.
MFA candidate and director Karen Sabo spoke about the production of “As You Like It” in an interview with University Communications. Read the interview below:
Why do you think this production particularly works at UNCG, for these students at this time?
This musical adaptation is about inclusiveness, embracing healing and joy, and being brave enough to love and to be loved for who we really are. It’s been such a difficult and divisive time in the world for the past few years, and many college students have struggled because of the lack of an in-person community during the pandemic and because of tribalism that can divide even families into factions. I think it’s a perfect time for a show about love, inclusion, acceptance, and joy, and about the struggle to be brave enough to pursue all those wonderful things.
What do you think “As You Like It” gains in being adapted into a musical?
I love Shakespeare and I love musicals, so while the season selection committee of the School of Theatre chose this, I’m thrilled to be directing it. This production was created originally for the Public Works wing of The Public Theatre of New York City, and they create productions that feature a few professionals, and then many dozens of people from every walk of life. The power of music and dance, and the joy of singing and dancing (and witnessing singing and dancing) is powerful and supports the whimsy and fun in the story of “As You Like It.” Shakespeare would often write songs into his shows for characters to sing, and many of his comedies would end with a big group dance from the cast, so to take those elements a step further seems to make a lot of sense. And the show’s adapters embraced an “anything goes” attitude, so we have a boy band number, another song that features choreography that looks like a Grateful Dead concert, and some beautiful ballads as well.
Tell us about how you have worked with the Shakespearean language.
Some of the original text remains, and some of it is updated into modern language. We have just a few cast members who have taken classes in how to approach Shakespeare as actors, and it is a particular skill. The rest of the cast has jumped in with both feet regarding the guidelines of using the language to play their characters’ actions, and it’s not an easy skill! It makes this 90-minute musical more complicated than it seems, especially for students still getting their training. I hope that the show will be entertaining for audiences, and also a good learning experience for all of us involved who are students.
What have been the most challenging and the most gratifying parts of this production?
Balancing the COVID protocols hasn’t been easy. Everyone involved in the production must be vaccinated, and then also have a negative COVID test each week, and submit those results online to the School of Theatre COVID coordinator. Students are really busy, and have occasionally missed getting the on-campus tests when they’re available, and have to scramble to get the home tests, and figure out how to submit online. Also, musicals are normally quite time-consuming to rehearse, as learning music and choreography take a lot longer than most people think. But handling the Shakespeare text on top of that has given us an extra challenge.
I feel lucky to work with a lovely group of people. Dom Amendum, who is one of the coordinators of the Musical Theatre Program here at UNCG is our amazing musical director for the show, and School of Dance MFA student Allison McCarthy has been delightful to work with as choreographer. My advisors, John Gulley and Erin Speer have been very helpful in making the show stronger, and the students in the show are delightful! We’ve made a community while creating this production about the importance of creating a loving, conscious community that values difference and forgiveness.
Are there some aspects of this production you’d especially like to highlight?
I’m grateful that I got to work with professor Randall McMullen, who designed our totally cool set. We have one big set change that takes us from the cold, austere setting of the court to the lush, green forest of Arden and the contrast is so cool. My fellow MFA students Karsen Green (costumes) and Rachel Lake (lights) are doing such beautiful work! I think we all feel lucky that the MFA programs here at UNCG are so strong and that we can enjoy collaborating on projects.
Is there anything you’d like to mention about working on this production that really represents UNCG’s theater program and focus as a whole?
The theater programs here at UNCG are hidden gems. I knew about the MFA tracks, but hadn’t realized that the undergraduate programs are so strong, from musical theater to stage management to theater education. The sheer size of the program is an asset, too, as it allows us to put on large-cast productions with substantial design and great tech support. I hope audiences will realize that enjoying the show means they’re enjoying the work of so many behind-the-scenes people here in the School of Theatre.
Story and interview by Susan Kirby-Smith and Dana Broadus, University Communications
Photography by Tiffany Gilley-Forrer