Working with First-time Actors


Jennifer Wintzer, Nancy Bell — Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis
Stephen Muterspaugh — San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

 Shakespeare For All Video

1)   San Francisco Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare For All

“All the World’s a Stage”

  1. a) Involved community members from four small, rural California Central Valley communities lacking major arts institutions
  2. b) Towns were chosen in the basis of how well our educational tour had done there in prior years
  3. c) Took place over two years
  4. i) Year One: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  5. ii) Year Two: Julius Caesar

iii)        Funded by grant support

  1. d) Method
  2. i) Spent 8 weeks in each community
  3. ii) 6 weeks of outreach events to recruit actors and build community awareness

iii)        2 weeks of rehearsal, culminating in a one-hour performance

(1)                  Script was a one-hour cutting of the play and was comprised entirely of Shakespeare’s language, edited for space and preserving meaning and scansion as much as possible

(2)                 Communities were very positive about how this was ‘authentic Shakespeare’

  1. iv) Primary partner in each community was the library
  2. v) Casting was done through workshops, including a text workshop and an ensemble-building workshop
  3. vi) Specifically targeted adults but no one wishing to participate was turned away, so there were some children in the shows.

(1)                  Ages spanned from 5 to 95

vii)      Shows and casting workshops were well attended with the exception of the very remote and small community of Chowchilla, which had little infrastructure to help us spread the word.  In Year 2, we combined communities to help build presence.

2)  Other Notes on Shakespeare for All

  1. a) For many in both the cast and the audience, this was the first Shakespeare that they had seen
  2. b) We anchored the process with some professional actors, including our Amy Lizardo, who had grown up in exactly this sort of rural Central Valley community
  3. c) What did a typical participant have to say about the experience?
  4. i) All the communal effort and problem-solving was very inspiring
  5. ii) He went from zero Shakespeare involvement to this being an important connection in his life. He has now travelled a great distance to see our main stage shows and is in frequent communication with our organization.
  6. d) Process in a nutshell

(1)                  3 months out – talk to community leaders

(2)                 Shakespeare on Tour performs the 1-hour version of the play that will be part of SfA

(3)                 Popup scenes are performed all over the community by SF Shakes actors

(4)                 2 free workshops are held, to which all are invited, and out of which the casting happens

(5)                 An intense 12-day period of 3-4 hour rehearsals

(6)                 First year: culminates in one-hour show

(7)                 Second year: culminates in 3 shows

  1. e) Final thoughts from Steve:
  2. i) It’s crucial to commit to these actors that you will create this WITH them, as opposed to coming from outside to impose on them your vision for your




PART TWO – Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis


“Access to the arts is a public right, not an exclusive privilege”


1)   Their efforts are taking place in a city divided ethnically, economically and even geographically.  This is a city of many barriers (including physical ones that attempted to isolate high-crime neighborhoods), and a major focus of SFSL is to cross these divisions.

2)   Have two programs using first-time actors

  1. a) Shakespeare in the Streets
  2. b) Shake 38 (38 play marathon in 5 days)

3)   SHAKE 38 – adaptations and interpretations of Shakespeare’s 38 plays are performed by 38 different groups in a variety of locations. From performances on rooftops to bars to coffee shops to street corners, only one rule exists: Make the play happen any way you see fit. The performances have included work by actors, visual artists, musicians, dancers, sculptors, and even chefs! SHAKE 38 draws upon the creativity of the city and puts it on display in every neighborhood

  1. a) Actors/groups are recruited through a public call for submissions. The result has spanned Much Ado on a boat in a park, Merry Wives over chips and beer in a pub, and Antony and Cleopatra at the Egyptian Hair Salon where elaborate hair sculptures were created as the play was read.

4)   Shakespeare in the Streets

  1. a) This project recruits first-time actors and involves them in a fully professional production directed to uncompromising standard of quality
  2. b) Key element is the work of a creative team including a director, a stage manager, and a professional playwright, who work for a period of months with these actors and incorporates their stories and ideas into an original work based on a particular Shakespeare play. The plays also contain a lot of shout-outs and local references.
  3. c) Collaborations also include other community members, such as a mural artist whose work appears throughout the city. She involves local residents in the execution of each mural.
  4. d) For Winter’s Tale, instead of a statue, a mural of Hermione was unveiled at the climactic moment in the play, as in a Kabuki drop. This mural features the actual actor in the show, who emerged from a doorway when Hermione returns to life.
  5. e) One of the many barriers in St. Louis is Manchester Avenue, the former Route 66, which not only is one of the city’s lines of segregation but also where the drag clubs are located.
  6. i) A Manchester Ave street sign was an important part of the set
  7. ii) The character of Time was played by a drag queen from the community
  8. f) Recruiting tactics included visiting a Boys and Girls club after-school program and getting to know a group of teenagers, whose stories were incorporated in the script.
  9. g) A production of As You Like it crossed barriers in other ways. Though set in a wealthy white neighborhood at an elite public school, this school turned out to be one of the earliest ones to self-desegregate with voluntary bussing.
  10. i) The Orlando in this production was a young African-American man, Maalik, who had made the effort to be bussed to this school
  11. ii) His Rosalind was a professional actor.

iii) The mentoring from the professional actor provided a lot of help to Orlando – and he in turn began mentoring a very young member of the cast with confidence issues.

  1. h) Other key points from Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis
  2. i) Shakespeare’s world was also divided (though by class more than race) and his work crossed this barriers to create a play and an audience that included everyone.
  3. ii) Using community in your theater doesn’t mean you’re making community theater. It’s important to keep your standards high. “If you treat community members like any other artist, that feels like respect and it makes them dig deep and do their best.”

iii) Having a summer camp in that neighborhood the summer before recruiting for the production helped to raise interest


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