U of W theatre department brings a classic comedy to the stage

Quiet on the set: UW theatre students part of the production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It rehearse at the Gas Station Arts Centre. Dylan Hewlett

For most people, a stage production begins with dimming lights and an opening curtain. It ends a few hours later when the real world is relit and the stage is once more sealed off behind its fabric barrier.

For some, that distinction between worlds is difficult to make.

“We’re at school 12 hours a day, five days a week,” said Amy Groening, a fourth-year honours theatre student at the University of Winnipeg. “It pretty much rules out the chance of having any social life whatsoever. Or having any sleep – you kind of choose.”

Groening shares the lead female role of Rosalind in the U of W Theatre Department’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, currently playing at the Gas Station Arts Centre until Saturday, Nov. 27.

Heather Russell, also in her final year of the theatre program, performs the other half of Rosalind. For her, the intensity of the five-week rehearsal schedule is part of its appeal.

“I feel I would rather be at school than at home just because I love it so much. It’s such a great process,” she said.

While the cast has been hard at work since mid-October, the set, costume and props designers started their process in May, developing preliminary conceptual designs over the summer.

Amy Wood, lead costume designer for the project, said her involvement continued until opening night.

“Sometimes through the process of the actors rehearsing, and as the show itself develops, maybe their character will develop away from the original costume concept,” Wood said. “There’s always more tweaks involved along the way.”

Christopher Brauer, department faculty member and the director of As You Like It, said the amount of preparation involved in bringing Shakespeare’s work to the stage is beyond that of contemporary works.

“Shakespeare’s plays are just longer – more scenes, more characters. They’re just bigger overall,” he said.

For Russell and Groening, the sophisticated comedy came with a unique set of challenges.

“When I started, I was pretty intimidated,” Groening said. “I was a little nervous to see if I could pull off.”

Russell agreed.

“It’s a little intimidating to start,” she said. “But once you get used to the language and really embrace the images in the language, it’s a lot of fun.”

“I love Shakespeare now,” Groening said. “It’s all written there for you on the page, all the cues and the humour is right there waiting for you to enjoy.”

Brauer appreciates the challenges that the play offers his students.

“There’s a level of maturity (in Shakespeare’s work) that – despite the fact that it’s 400 years old – far exceeds most modern writers’ capabilities,” he said. “It’s not for sissies – you’ve got to really be willing to step in there and sweat.

“What’s fantastic, then, on top of that, is the degree of commitment. From across the range of years and across the range of backgrounds, man, these students step up,” he added.

Published in Volume 65, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 25, 2010)

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