It’s no secret around here that I love As You Like It. It’s mentioned on my home page and about page. I talked about it when I did the “If Books Were Movies” tag, and Orlando ranks at the top of my list of Shakespearean boyfriends.
So you can imagine how excited I was to find out that I would get to see As You Like It in person! Shakespeare at Winedale, a program in which college and graduate students spend the summer studying and performing 3 Shakespeare plays, had As You Like It on their schedule. I’d never been to a Shakespeare at Winedale performance, but family members who had assured me that I’d like it.
So on August 5, we drove a couple of hours to the illustrious Round Top, Texas, population 90 humans and numerous cows. Shakespeare at Winedale is about a five-minute drive from Round Top. It is, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. The 100-year-old hay barn that serves as a theatre sits on a hot, dry, dusty field. The only sounds as I got out of the car were the drone of cicadas and Act I, scene 1 of As You Like It (we got there late).
The play was sold out, so I found a random seat on the aisle as Oliver concluded Act I, scene 1 with an irate monologue. It was hot, but there were fans, so I didn’t start sweating right away. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
(above: the stage.)
But soon, I forgot that I was sitting next to a guy I didn’t know, in a barn, during the worst of the Texas summer heat. I was entirely caught up in the story, and the acting, and the characters, and the words. It was wonderful and magical and so freaking funny.
It was everything As You Like It was supposed to be, and here are the 5 reasons why.
1. All the actors knew what their lines meant.
I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal. But as someone who has seen way too many middle school Shakespeare productions: when you don’t know what your lines mean, it shows. Since the actors knew what their lines meant–and not only theirs, but everyone else’s–the audience did, too.
2. They didn’t take themselves, or the play, too seriously.
I don’t mean that the actors didn’t do their best, just that the whole play was unpretentious. When confronted with Shakespeare, some directors assume that the Bard must always be acted seriously. As You Like It at Winedale recognized that the play is a comedy, both in the classical and modern sense of the word. They presented it as a screwball comedy, with plenty of slapstick humor mixed in with Shakespeare’s puns and *ahem* bawdier jokes.
3. They broke the fourth wall–and it worked.
I am not a fan of fourth wall breaks. Too often, they’re thrown in by amateur directors who feel that their plays need to be more interesting. At Winedale, the fourth wall breaks were brought out of the play, rather than forced in. The actors had us cheer on the wrestlers during Act I, scene 2. They entered the stage using the aisles, charging past or talking to the audience as they went (yes, this happened to me!). They delivered asides straight to the audience, and they invited us to participate in the choruses of songs or clap along. Best of all, the front row (composed, I think, of former “Winedalers”) acted as the groundlings, reacting to whatever was happening on stage with enthusiastic laughs, cheers, boos, and OHHH’s. As a result, the audience felt included, and we could react alongside the groundlings as we wished–just like at the Globe during the days of Shakespeare himself!
4. They acknowledged the weirdness of the play–and they owned it.
Let’s face it: the premise of As You Like It is weird as heck–all the cross-dressing, flirting, and scheming, most of it for no perceivable reason other than that Rosalind is bored! Winedale’s As You Like It portrayed Rosalind as a crazy, spunky romantic, with Celia as her sassy sidekick. Thus, a lot of the weird things Rosalind did were perfectly in character, and Celia was in the background going “WHAT THE HECK.”
Also, many Shakespeare directors approach songs and dances reluctantly, either omitting them or plodding through them with gritted teeth. The Winedale production adapted the songs for banjo, guitar, and harmonica, and they performed the dances as square dances. It fit the setting of a Texas barn perfectly! The song and dance numbers lent the play a fun, musical-like air.
Final week of our 47th Summer Season kicks off with a romp through Arden. Won’t you join us? 🦌 🍃 #lustyhorn #BardInTheBarn #ShakespeareAtWinedale 🦌 🍃 Beautiful image by the generous and skillful eye of Caroline Poe. 👁: carolinepoephotography.com
(above: hunting song, Act IV scene 2)
5. The actors were clearly in it for each other.
No one actor stood out–not because they weren’t good, but because they all were so good. Each person played his or her part with high energy, even if the character appeared in only one scene. The energy was directed outward: towards each other, towards the audience. In the words of former Winedaler Clayton Stromberger:
“[T]he world of theatre and […]Winedale were polar opposites: One celebrated the star system, the other the power of the ensemble; one indulged performers’ egos, the other demanded humility in the face of a great work of art; one was about product, the other about process. Most importantly, one spoke of “shows,” the other of “plays,” and this was a vital difference. A show was superficial, skin-deep, something separate from real life; a play, however, through the elemental act of playing, took us to the core of human existence.” (source)
I can’t say it much better than that.
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Without question, Shakespeare at Winedale did my favorite Shakespeare play justice. The actors were young, they were performing in a barn, the set was simple and the temperature in the nineties–but none of these things turned out to be setbacks. The generous, enthusiastic spirit filled the hot still air, and I came away exhilarated.
I think that if Shakespeare had got out of his grave, caught a flight to Texas, and sat down in the back of that barn, he would have loved Winedale’s As You Like It just as much as I did.
Have you ever been to Winedale, or a similar Shakespeare performance? Are you a massive Shakespeare nerd like me, who wants to know more details about this production (because I will gladly tell you *evil laughter*)? Let me know in comments!