A troupe of youthful rogues plays pantomimes, pratfalls

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Phil Collins

Kenneth Nazarian laughs as he watches his direction play out in front of him. Rehearsal is still at an early stage – there are no costumes and actors are reading from scripts – but the comedy is being crafted scene by scene.

For now, it is one scene of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” The scene is read through once and Nazarian, senior in LAS, doles out instructions on where each actor should be in the space of the stage and how they should react to each other. Then they read through the scene again. And again.

The stage, for now, is a room in the English Building. On Dec. 5 and 6, the stage will be in the YMCA on Wright Street. “As You Like It” is the last of four shows put on this semester by the What You Will Shakespeare Company. In a room across the hall, more members of the Registered Student Organization are working on “The Winter’s Tale,” which hits the Channing-Murray Foundation Nov. 14 and 15. “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “Titus Andronicus” have already been performed at Lincoln Hall.

Rehearsals for the two upcoming plays are underway, and this is just a few days removed from the performances of “Two Gentlemen of Verona.”

“It’s become second nature to us that I’m going to be here from six to 10 in the English Building every night of the semester,” Nazarian, who is also a co-president of the company, said.

Not everyone works on multiple productions at once, but Nazarian said that spacing the plays out by a couple of weeks allows enough time so members can work on two plays simultaneously. Or three. Or four.

“There are some company members who are involved with (nearly every show),” said Elena Levenson, junior in FAA and former Illini Media Company employee.

What You Will has put on 17 plays since its start in 2006. Liz Dampf, graduate student and founder of the company, said the production company would now have much more involvement than it did at the start.

“Initially we were trying to do larger name shows just to draw actors and audiences to build up a base, but since then we’ve had the luxury of doing lesser known shows, some that even aren’t Shakespeare,” Dampf said.

“The Dog in the Manger” and “The Changeling” are the non-Shakespeare shows the group has done, both performed last year.

While they are sticking to Shakespeare this semester, What You Will is still taking chances with their shows. “Titus Andronicus” featured a lot of violence. This was followed up with “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” for which the group decided to go with an all-female cast.

“Our first show of the season was ‘Titus Andronicus’ which has, as the director liked to say, two-and-a-half female characters,” Levenson said.

“Two Gentlemen of Verona,” being the next production, was done with an all-female cast in part because of the lack of female roles in “Titus Andronicus,” but also because of the feminist themes in the play. This was the second time the company used an all-female cast; the first time was in “Measure for Measure” in 2006.

The upcoming production of “The Winter’s Tale” will be performed on a circular stage with the audience surrounding it, known as theater in the round. The play will also feature live music, a first for What You Will.

“‘The Winter’s Tale’ is going to be about the cyclical nature of time,” said Brian Falbo, who plays Leontes and is a senior in LAS.

This play is not an all female cast but Dampf, director of the play, said it contains strong female roles.

“Very few Shakespeare plays include more than, I would say, three substantial female parts. ‘The Winter’s Tale’ actually I think is one of the best ones for having three good female roles,” she said.

Dampf has been with the organization from the beginning and has seen some shows go off with hardly a hitch while others face problems. She had to step in as the director of “Much Ado About Nothing,” a play she does not like as much as Shakespeare’s other comedies, when the director quit.

Now she brushes it off as part of the theater, along with other problems the company has faced.

“There will always be costume problems, set problems, technical difficulties, and there are always going to be actors who you have to twist their arms to get them to know their lines,” Dampf said.

What You Will has held together like a group of friends, through good times and hard times. This comes through when Dampf talks about a friend the group had lost.

“As we were sitting around remembering him on the night that he passed away, we just had this moment of, well, we should probably sing the song that he would always sing with us, which may have been a Tenacious D song, but every time we sing it now it’s sort of joyful and sad because we remember Rob, the person that we lost … we can band together through anything really instead of just falling apart.”