UNCG Campus Weekly

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Text me, Rosalind: Shakespeare in the cyber age

Image of Forest“As You Like It,” one of Shakespeare’s most beloved romantic comedies, will open this Friday at 7:30 p.m. in UNCG’s Taylor Theatre, and the production is far from traditional.

You won’t see any bustles or breeches in the costuming, for one thing. It’s business suits, ties and smartphones. The play’s first setting, the court of Duke Frederick, resembles an Apple store.

With the help of students in the Technical Production program, Professor of Theatre and Scenery Designer Randy McMullen created a sleek, modern rectilinear design for the court scenes, all in black and white.

“We want UNCG students to walk into Taylor Theatre, see that set and go ‘wait a second − this is not the Shakespeare I know,’” explained the production’s director, Associate Professor John Gulley.

In the play, when the setting shifts from the court to the Forest of Arden, the characters are out of a Wi-Fi connection and encounter nature for the first time. They gradually shed their ties and electronic devices as they adapt to the forest.

“The play begins with a very sleek business look and ends with a bohemian forest wedding, said Costume Studio Supervisor Amy Holroyd.  

“Nature itself has a transformative effect on them,” added Gulley. “And that’s what has always drawn me to this play.”

Although the production’s outward appearance will be uniquely contemporary, the script is still Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” in its original form. Gulley and Associate Professor Christine Morris, who serves as the production’s vocal coach, are in agreement that the work of Shakespeare is indispensable in theatre education and in campus and community life.

“For the student actors, it’s invigorating to convey what I call ‘the big stuff,’” said Morris. “We keep doing Shakespeare not because of some grand idea of history or poetry or an idea of what theatre should be, but because it’s full of ‘the big stuff.’ It’s love, it’s death, it’s loneliness, humor, fear and triumph − all of that. If a student can learn to unlock the acting clues that are in here, that’s something that’s going to serve them well.”

“University students need to hear language like this,” said Gulley, who can easily point to Shakespeare’s profound influence in George R.R. Martin and HBO’s hit series, “Game of Thrones.” “When it’s done right, an audience will get it, even if they don’t know iambic pentameter or the Elizabethan metaphors. Something different happens with elevated language – it drives you deeper into the psyche of a character, which helps out, because we’re all here to tell a story.”

The two main leads of the production are seniors Baraka Ongeri as Orlando and Katie Olson as Rosalind. The initial costume design was created by senior Lauren McCoy with the assistance of Amy Holroyd and junior Katelyn Wingerson.

Along with the 20 UNCG undergraduate actors, the cast includes graduate students James MacFarlane, Bryanna Vinge and Zach Vinge who, as Jaques, delivers the famous “all the world’s a stage” monologue. Faculty members Jim Wren and Denise Gabriel serve as movement directors.

“As You Like It” opens on Sept. 22 and runs through Sept. 30, with a pay-what-you-can preview on Sept. 21. Tickets are available through the Triad Stage website, by phone at 336-272-0160 or the Brown Box Office (336-334-4392).

By Susan Kirby-Smith
Conceptual drawing of set courtesy UNCG Theatre.

Updated Sept. 22.

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