Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, a Gainesville-based non-profit organization, reopened July 23 after a year and a half of being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Its first production to kick off the season is the “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare,” which is a comedic retelling of all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 97 minutes. The show will run through Aug. 8 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Monica Cross, the 33-year-old director on the board of the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, said “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” was the perfect play to lift the mood of the Gainesville audience.
“As we were planning our reopening, we really felt like everyone right now collectively needed a good laugh,” she said. “I'm really hoping that this show will be a breath of fresh air.”
Shakespeare’s “electricity” in his work is a major reason his stories can be adapted and remain entertaining for audiences today, Cross said.
“The problems that they are dealing with are very fundamental problems like family drama, relationship drama, and yet it's taken to these extremes,” she said. “That sort of energy is so exciting, and I think that that's what brings people back to Shakespeare continuously.”
Cross said “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” tones down Shakespeare’s drama, humorously acknowledging his bizarre storylines and self-awareness of the pedestal the world has put him on.
“The show really picks fun at Shakespeare as much as it reveres him,” said Rikki Baynard, a UF English literature third-year student performing in the upcoming shows.
The play features a three-person cast, which Cross said made it easier to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines.
“[We’re] trying to re-engage the community and bring everyone back together in a safe environment,” she said.
Jennifer Hutton, a 35-year-old actress in the show, said it felt unusual being back in the theater after such a long hiatus.
“The theaters have been dark for a while. But it slowly felt like coming home,” she said.
Hutton hopes the show will bring a sense of normalcy back to the theater community and offer the audience a different experience.
“It's been a long and difficult year and a half for everybody, and so I hope that everybody will enjoy being together again and laughing,” she said. “Live theater is not like watching Netflix. It's not like watching a movie, even in a movie theater. It really relies on the energy, the breath, the feeling of everybody in the room.”
Baynard expressed her excitement for theater to return to the community.
“Theater is such a powerful thing,” she said. “For me, anyway, it's a form of escape and especially as an audience member, it takes you out of your daily life for an hour or two. There's that energy exchange. There's something about being around other living breathing human beings.”
“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare'' has been in production for three years and has been performed at various venues, including Faux Tales, outdoor bars and the University of Florida’s driveway theater project.
After performing the same show for the last three years, the cast decided to revamp the show for its final season. This time, they will be adorning Shakespearean garments and British accents to stay true to the original text.
“It's been cool to be able to not rewrite it but put our own twist on it and use our own senses of humor to really make it our own,” Baynard said “I feel very deeply attached to the show, and it's gonna be sad to not do it again.”
The show was originally written for men to fill the roles, but this time, women are taking to the stage.
Actress Emma Grimm, 25, was grateful for the opportunity this play provided to give women a voice in a theater industry that has long been dominated by men.
“It means everything to me because as a performer, in both theater and film, I'm more often than not working with crews that are mostly men,” she said. “Getting to do it as three women has been a really unique experience because it's a complete rarity.”
Hutton said the familiarity of Shakespeare’s material will help welcome audience members back to the theater.
“It's comforting in a way to go to the theater and see a show that you're already familiar with,” Hutton said. “There's a little bit in it for everyone. And I think that's what makes this show so fun and something everyone can enjoy.”
Acrosstown Repertory Theatre will host its annual gala on Aug. 21, which will help raise money for the upcoming season.
Contact Bryce at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @brycebrownnn.