With ‘As You Like It,’ CTC sets Shakespeare in the ’60s with live music and colorful costumes

Jerrie Johnson as Celia sips from an audience member’s beer during the Chautauqua Theater Company’s performance of “As You Like It” on Wednesday, July 18, 2018, at Southern Tier Brewing Company. ABIGAIL DOLLINS/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Chautauqua Theater Company’s traveling production of As You Like It invites theatergoers to step back in time, not just to the Elizabethan age, but to America in the 1960s. Free Will: Chautauqua Shakespeare continues its tour of Chautauqua County with a performance at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug.2, at Lakeside Park in Mayville.

As You Like It tells the story of Rosalind and Celia, two young women who live in an oppressive and patriarchal court that concerns itself with wrestling and violence. Fed up with their social constraints, the friends flee to the forest, where they find another society that values expression and love.

“I thought there was a direct line between what was happening in the mid-to late-’60s leading into the Woodstock movement and the hippie movement and this whole idea of freedom,” said CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba.

To invite this comparison, CTC’s production employs floral prints and flower crowns, along with music plucked straight from the ’60s songbook.

“There is a very fruitful gain when you take ‘Blow blow thou winter winds’ from Shakespeare and put in ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’” Borba said. “It is also going to be a song that hopefully some of the audience will be familiar with and will anchor us into this location of Woodstock.”

Costume design fellow Jennifer Clark said she wanted to create a clear distinction between the forest and the court. To inform her design approach, Clark said she researched world leaders like John F. Kennedy as well as the hippie movement.

“We start in the court, so we wanted that to feel like later ’50s, early ’60s and have much more structured looks,” she said. “Then going into Woodstock, I did a lot of research on Woodstock and what people were wearing at the time.”

Clark said she spent an entire day painting and tie-dying shirts and pants for Rosalind and the forest’s other inhabitants.

“I tie-dyed Touchstone’s shirt and the tie-dye wasn’t as bright as I’d like it, so I went through with some painting techniques to up that,” Clark said.

Because some actors take on multiple roles in the play, Clark said her designs also needed to clearly show these character changes for the audience. For example, conservatory actor Jerrie Johnson wears her hair up when she plays Celia, but lets it down to play the feisty Phoebe.

“Jerrie had a great idea to do the headscarf, which really helps change her character, and so we worked together, talking with (the actors) about who that particular character is and what are the differences they see in those characters and how I can translate that into giving them costumes,” Clark said.

As You Like It’s soundtrack was largely based on conservatory actor James Smart’s musical talents. Among other roles, the actor plays Amiens, a troubadour who wanders the Forest of Arden with his guitar. Smart said that audiences so far have enjoyed the show’s use of music.

“We are very engaged with the audience in a way that most Shakespearean audiences and most theatrical audiences aren’t used to, but are enthusiastic about,” Smart said.

At the beginning of the summer, Borba and sound design fellow Jeff Sherwood brainstormed ’60s songs that would fit the show. Smart said he liked their selections, but was not sure he would be able to learn them all in time for the first performance.

“Borba and Sherwood, they cultivated a really great playlist of songs that they would like to hear, but we were working under some time constraints,” Smart said. “I asked Borba with my tail between my legs ‘Can I play songs that I know how to play?’ and of course he said yes.”

During early rehearsals, Smart said he played “Going Up the Country,” but later switched to “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” replacing the city’s name with “the Forest of Arden.”

“We’re doing a lot of songs you recognize, but we’re doing them with a little bit of a twist,” Smart said.

Smart said one of his favorite moments so far this summer was singing with Chautauquans under the rain tent during the June 24 performance on Bestor Plaza.

“We started playing ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ and people started singing along,” Smart said. “That was very special, and I think it’s a moment I will remember for quite some time.”

Tags : As You Like ItChautauqua Theater CompanyFree Will: ShakespeareLakeside Park

The author Kevin C. Vestal

Kevin Vestal is from Westerville, Ohio, and is a rising senior at Miami University in Ohio, studying journalism and professional writing with a minor in theater. Last summer, he interned for The Florence Newspaper in Italy, and he is excited to cover Chautauqua Theater Company and the Family Entertainment Series for the Daily. An avid thespian, Kevin recently performed on stage in Tartuffe and also has an irrational fear of wrists.