Keegan audiences will notice a big transformation of the theater for the area debut of Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery’s musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Co-directors Cara Gabriel and Josh Sticklin Sticklin decided early on that they wanted to make the entire theater a “playing space” for their actors and audience. To do this correctly, they hired an architect to make sure their plans were done safely and efficiently.
“We’ve taken out rows of seating in the normal proscenium part of the theater and replaced them so those rows of audience can be on stage with us,” Gabriel says. “And we created an upper deck where in the Keegan space you might normally see the orchestra, but instead there is audience. So, we have actors where would traditionally be audience, and audience on stage. Now, no matter where you are, you can be part of the action potentially.” The whole transformation took six people three weeks to accomplish, Sticklin said. That same crew has ten days to turn the theatre back into a proscenium in time for its upcoming An Irish Carol which opens December 13.
Sticklin admits that when he first pitched this idea to artistic directors Mark Rhea and Susan Marie Rhea, they were a bit nervous but also open to the transformation.
“One thing I noted, having done shows as an actor with Keegan pre-renovation and post-renovation, is I really loved, pre-renovation, how often we had to use the entrances alongside the audience just for logistical reasons, and the kind of energy one gets when an actor is rushing by you to make an entrance,”Sticklin says. “I wanted to honor that as part of Keegan’s artistic path and a convention that I think is exciting and includes the audience in a non-threatening way.”
Naturally, there was an impact on the way Sticklin and Gabriel directed as well.
As You Like It
closes December 2, 2018
Details and tickets
“We keep saying it’s in the round, but that doesn’t even begin to cover what it actually is,” Gabriel says. “A lot of the blocking we’ve taken from techniques you would use in the round, but then beyond that, we had to get comfortable with the fact that in some scenes, people would see some actors’ backs and some actors’ faces, but in the next scene, it would be different.”
It also presented challenges for the production team, such as how to light every corner of the theater and how to make sure sound was audible everywhere. Thankfully lighting designer Alberto Segarra and sound designer Niusha Nawab were up for the task.
“There were a lot of firsts and a lot of experimentation and I love that; to me, that’s fun. We embraced that challenge,” Gabriel says. “It definitely means every single element is different. The acting needs to be blocked and performed differently, and every element is new.”
“People are going to love the action being in their lap and if someone has the opportunity to come more than once, I would highly recommend checking it out from different spots in the house,” he says.
Now that the theater has been successfully set up this way, Sticklin says he believes Keegan may utilize this sort of space for future productions as well.
“It offers some unique possibilities for how the space can be used in so far as the technical aspects can be surmounted,” he says. “We learned a lot. The first go-around is going to always be a little more difficult because we’re learning as we’re doing. The second time and third time it will get easier because you’ll know what to expect and what the challenges may be. The homework has been done.”
Sticklin gives props to the entire production team and cast of 18 actors for being patient and evolving with this idea, and feels the final product is one that will be remembered.“What I’m most proud of on the project is the diversity of actors and the creative team we assembled and the fact that we have 17 artists who had never worked with Keegan before and I’m thrilled that all this new talent has poured into the doors here.”
With the stage set, so to speak, Sticklin turned to Shaina Taub’s music, which primarily lands in a folksy-pop-like arena.
“She did this same kind of adaptation prior with Twelfth Night at the Public Theater, so by this one, I feel she found a really nice way of drifting from the text right into a song,” he says. “The pop-y quality of the music really makes Shakespeare approachable to a modern audience.” The music reminds Gabriel a little of Sara Bareilles, in that it’s contemporary and catchy.
“She does a really good job of blending Shakespeare’s original intention and original language with some nice anachronistic elements from contemporary society that anyone will recognize,” she says. “The music is playful, funny when you don’t expect it to be and I think people will go home singing parts because it stays in your head.”