‘As You Like It’ moves between worlds of student and professional, forest and royal court

Amanda Catania

Amanda Catania, who appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association, plays Rosalind and disguises herself as Ganymede, a man, in “As You Like It.” Photographs by Amy Osajima

Indiana Festival Theatre will start its 2015 season Friday with “As You Like It.”

For local audiences, it is a chance to be entertained by professional and student actors in one of William Shakespeare’s most loved — and most lovestruck – comedies. The play will be performed in repertory with “The Gentleman from Indiana” through July 25 at The Wells-Metz Theatre.

David Kortemeier

David Kortemeier appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association.

“I am very fond of “As You Like It,” said director Jonathan Michaelsen, the chair of the IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance. “It’s really a lovely play I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

The play contrasts two worlds: a corrupt court and the magical Forest of Arden. Duke Senior has been expelled from the kingdom by his brother, Duke Frederick. As different characters move to the forest, “There’s a lot of redemption and conversion… and so there’s this wonderful sense of spirit and hope,” he said.

Much of the action revolves around Rosalind, daughter of the banished duke. With more than 700 lines, she is Shakespeare’s largest female role. “She’s really the heartbeat of the play. She’s the smartest person in the room.”

Rosalind is the niece of the new duke, “a nasty fellow,” while her best friend Celia is his daughter. “You can imagine this court intrigue,” he said.

Stages of Learning

Behind the scenes of both productions, the five members of Actors’ Equity Association add more than professional stage skills. By working side by side with Indiana University theater students, they lead by example.

Henry Woronicz and Maya Ferrario

Henry Woronicz, who appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association, shares scenes with IU student Maya Ferrario.

“You talk about experiential learning, there’s nothing like it,” he said. “Our students come into the rehearsal hall and see how these people work and how prepared they are and how committed they are.”

Most of the Equity actors arrived for the three-week rehearsal period already knowing their lines. That, he said, is a great basic lesson for students.

Michaelsen said that when he travels to Chicago and other cities to cast professionals, he looks for good performers, but much more. “I work hard to cast people that I think will work well with students. I tell them, ‘you aren’t expected to be a teacher, but you’re a mentor.’

“There’s a clear sense that here are the Equity actors and here is the student company. On the other hand, when you get together and start working on a play, you’re in it together.”

“This company has been a real delight,” he said.

Close company

That spirit of cooperation and leadership has been especially valuable as students learn the language of Shakespeare. Michaelsen said Henry Woronicz and Fredric Stone have been generous about mentoring students on the text.

Mara Lefler

Mara Lefler, a recent IU grad, plays Celia in “As You Like It.”

Woronicz also has worked well with student Maya Ferrario in their scenes together. As Touchstone the fool, he falls in love with her character, Audrey, and the two eventually marry. “Here’s an undergraduate student who has been able to work with somebody who’s really spectacular and they do some funny scenes together.”

Michaelsen also has enjoyed watching how Amanda Catania, as Rosalind, has worked with Mara Lefler, a recent MFA graduate in acting. Because they play cousins and best friends, “It’s pivotal they figure out their relationship and work through that. It’s been great to see how this professional that we’ve brought in and this student who’s about to head out into the world have built a bond together.”

Contemporary staging

The Indiana Festival Theatre production of “As You Like It,” part of IU’s Summer Festival of the Arts, will be performed in modern dress and set in contemporary times.

zachary spicer

IU alum Zachary Spicer, who appears courtesy of Equity Actors’ Association, portrays Orlando.

Shakespeare’s themes are big enough that they “move through time” and can be tied to what’s going on today, Michaelsen said. He is struck by the world’s environmental and political concerns, and his vision of the court alludes to that.

“Oh, I’ve tried to litter the stage some to give this sense of an unhealthy world that we’ve created. There’s a lot of anger in it… it’s this corrupt world. Duke Frederick is ruling by the iron fist,” he said.

Scenic designer Reuben Lucas describes the court he created as modern and luxe with glossy materials, mirrors and severe angled furniture. Everything is synthetic and plastic, “a polluted veil that is ripped away to reveal the forest and its natural beauty underneath.”

The Forest of Arden, at first plagued with an oil slick, “heals and restores the natural environment and, by extension, humanity,” Lucas said.

As the play progresses, the wintery forest begins to blossom. “The Forest in the springtime is colorful, vibrant, cheerful and full of whimsy; in essence the perfect place to fall in love,” he said.

To see the plays

As You Like It” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. July 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 22 and 24; and at 2 p.m. July 19 and 25 in the Wells-Metz Theatre.

The Gentleman from Indiana,” based on the book by Indiana author Booth Tarkington, is directed by Dale McFadden, associate chair in the IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance. It will begin at 7:30 p.m. July 11, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23 and 25 and at 2 p.m. July 12 and 18, also in the Wells-Metz Theatre.

Tickets for each show are $25, $15 for students and are available online, or at the IU Auditorium box office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Both plays are appropriate for audiences ages 10 to 12 and above.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,