‘Unconventional Shakespeare’

‘What You Will’ Performance Kicks Off 3rd Thursdays

From left, Emily Drew, Julie Reed, Matt McWilliams, and Rusty Allen, of Madness Most Discreet, rehearse a scene in “What You Will.”

It’s a re-imagining of Shakespeare.

And according to Emily Drew, “What You Will” is Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” like you’ve never seen it.

The play will be the first performance of Renaissance Corporation’s 3rd Thursday series at the Wintergarden Plaza.

Drew, founder of Madness Most Discreet, is producing the play, and along with three other actors, will bring a high-energy, fast-paced performance.

There is a twist: audience members will help decide which actor will play what role.

From left Julie Reed, Emily Drew, and Rusty Allen, of Madness Most Discreet, rehearse a scene in “What You Will,” a twist on Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” P-J photos by Michael Zabrodsky

“The audience (members) should expect to participate in the experience. They will help us decide which actors will play what roles, and they will be engaged throughout the hour-long telling of the story,” Drew said. “So it’ll be family-friendly, really fun, exciting, fast-paced window into Shakespeare and ‘Twelfth Night.'”

Drew added that there is a tool that is used to let audience members randomly pick characters. The actors will find out what characters they will be playing at the same time audience members do.

On Thursday two performances are scheduled at 6 p.m. and at 8 p.m., so there may be two very different shows with two very different cast members.

“So we leave a level of freedom in our staging of the show, because we don’t know who will be playing what, which does breed a sort of spontaneity to the kind of performance that you’re going to see,” Drew said.

Drew added that she encourages people to see both shows because they may understand the context of what is happening the second time, and they might also see something that they did not see in the first show.

Other actors of Madness Most Discreet include Julie Reed, Rusty Allen, and Matt McWilliams. Drew said all four met some time ago while performing summer stock Shakespeare in New Hampshire. They performed for two summers and decided they wanted to keep working together, so they thought of an idea for a company where it would only be four artists performing all the roles in a Shakespeare play. The performance collective began with “Romeo and Juliet.”

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“We decided to start with ‘Romeo and Juliet’ because it’s such a universally beloved story. And it’s so powerful and timeless, we thought it’d be a great first project for our company,” Allen said.

Allen added that one of the things the collective tries to instill is getting younger actors, and students involved with Shakespeare.

“Shakespeare is for everyone,” Allen noted.

Reed said she really connects with how the audience members help decide who is going to play who.

“In this way, we’re engaging this audience, and giving them some agency in what happens in each performance,” Reed said.

Reed also connects with the language used in Shakespeare’s plays.

“And we love the language. That’s a huge part of why we’re doing it (the performance). We want to make other people fall in love with that language,” Reed said.

Drew noted that Madness Most Discreet also tries to create new kinds of theatergoers and new kinds of Shakespeare lovers.

“So, the four of us being actors, and collaborating in that sense to build these performances is like such a key part of that original practice, and it builds a different kind of understanding, a different kind of physicality, a different kind of communication style with the audience than just a director and actors in the sort of classic sense,” Drew said.

McWilliams had similar views.

“We bring Shakespeare to not only audiences, but I think ourselves. Shakespeare often feels so stuffy and inaccessible to people, and I think getting to see Shakespeare come from unexpected bodies, unexpected voices is exciting. You hear it differently. It means something different. There’s a lot to be learned from unconventional Shakespeare.”

The Thursday performance is free at the Wintergarden Plaza, 313 N. Main St. Drew said there will be some seating available at the plaza, and encourages people to bring their own seating.

For more information call (716) 708-6761 or email jrc@jamestownrenaissance.org.


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