Ithaca College’s Department of Theatre Arts will soon put on its first Main Stage show for the season, “As You Like It,” written by William Shakespeare.
“As You Like It” is a comedy that examines the restrictions of the court life as the characters enter into another world, the Forest of Arden, where they find their true selves. Through a series of misadventures and comedic incidents, the characters learn to open themselves up to love and discover their true spirits.
Catherine Weidner, associate professor and chair of the Department of Theatre Arts, is the director of the show. She said “As You Like It” focuses on the redemptive power of love and achieving honesty, maturity and authenticity in terms of one’s feelings.
“It’s a lot of different subplots of people that are struggling to find their identity and getting off the wavered path in terms of thinking about who they are and finding out [who] they really are,” Weidner said.
According to the Department of Theatre Arts, the theater school has not put on a Shakespeare play since 2011 when it put on “Measure for Measure.” Weidner said the value of Shakespeare in education is undeniable.
“The heightened language and the text of Shakespeare is a great challenge for actors,” Weidner said. “One of the things I love about directing Shakespeare is that it uses every muscle we have, so it really engages us all fully.”
Johnny Shea, a senior musical theater major who plays the lead male role of Orlando, said he has never done a Shakespeare play during his time at the college. Because of this, he said he is excited for the opportunity.
“We have done a lot of Shakespeare classes at school, but it’s good to finally apply what I’ve learned in those classes in an actual show,” Shea said.
Senior acting major Jordan Friend, who plays Corin, said training for “As You Like It” has been a satisfying experience given the actors’ abilities at the college.
“I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare plays elsewhere, but doing it in this setting with the level of talent available here has been really special for me,” he said. “It’s definitely the most capable Shakespeare ensemble under the most talented Shakespeare director that I’ve worked with.”
“As You Like It” was cast in late August, meaning the group has had five weeks of rehearsals to prepare for opening night Oct. 1. Weidner said Shakespeare plays normally take at least six weeks to rehearse, so it has been fast-paced.
Friend said having a shorter process makes the cast understand what it would have been like staging this play years ago during Shakespeare’s time because actors during the Elizabethan period often did not get to study scripts for a lengthy period of time prior to the show’s opening.
“They didn’t have these long gestation periods,” Friend said. “They relied on their instincts and on the clues that are planted in the text to make discoveries on the fly. Because we are on a slightly more accelerated pace, we are making discoveries in the moment and are learning things.”
With 22 actors, the cast is larger than that of a typical play, which generally is made up of about 10 to 15 actors or fewer. Regardless of the larger number of actors, Friend said there is a strong sense of community with everyone involved.
“There’s a lot of group singing … that made us tighten [the community] because we were singing these songs together, dancing together and planning together,” Friend said.
While the plot of the show may be somewhat complex, the set design is simple. Weidner said she is not a big believer in a lot of moving parts and complicated scenery, so they chose to make the production as simple as possible, even though it is quite beautiful and natural. There is a lot of nature in it such as trees, moss and warm colors that represent the forest.
Junior Katie McGeorge, the show’s scenic designer, said it is her job to create an environment that can sustain the action of the play. In terms of the set’s simplicity, she said she believes Shakespeare is doing all of the work with his clear language. McGeorge said the costumes and set work really well together.
“We are making this forest in a way that empowers them and is more of a self-made journey and not so much of a machine-cut, right-angle, constrained journey,” McGeorge said.
In terms of people who are concerned the show will be inaccessible because they do not have a good understanding of Shakespeare, Friend said this is a production and a company that people can trust.
“Every element is geared towards making sure that we take you on the trip with us and that you don’t miss a beat,” Friend said. “I think it’s a great production for newcomers to Shakespeare.”
The show runs Oct. 1– 4 and Oct. 7–10, with a preview performance Sept. 29 in Clark Theatre in Dillingham Center. Tickets are available online at ithaca.ticketforce.com or at the college’s box office in Dillingham Center for $10 to $16.