BRATTLEBORO — Vermont Theatre Company is telling Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” in the intimate Hooker-Dunham Theater.
“What I love about this in particular is there’s different things to get out of it when it’s outdoors as opposed to when it’s in a theater like the Hooker-Dunham,” said Shannon Ward, play director and co-manager of the Hooker-Dunham Theater and Gallery, pointing out how the script includes a lot of intense, emotional scenes that might get lost in a big park setting. “That’s one of the things I love about the Hooker-Dunham. You’re immersed in the show in a way that you might not be in other venues.”
“The Winter’s Tale” will be shown Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. this weekend and next. General admission is $15 and $13 for students.
A description of the play on hookerdunham.org says, “When the paranoid King Leontes locks up his wife and exiles his infant daughter, the ramifications of his monstrous acts are felt across years and kingdoms.”
This marks Ward’s first time directing adults. She has directed youth theater and acted in the play at New England Youth Theatre.
“What’s interesting is it runs the gamut from tragic to comic,” she said. “It’s a challenge but it’s also a palate cleanser.”
Ward said the first three acts feature some of Shakespeare’s darkest work.
“It’s a very intimate presentation of what is often presented as a very large play,” said Cameron Cobane, production designer for the play and co-manager of the Hooker-Dunham Theater and Gallery. “This sort of centerpiece right in the middle of the play is a sheep shearing festival, big pastoral party. Here we are on our 16-by-20 [foot] stage, having an intimate, nightclub-feeling party. So I think the audience will feel very directly involved in that celebration, we hope.”
Cobane said that like most Shakespeare presentations, this one is being edited and cut down — partly for length and partly for editorial creativity.
“But almost every word that gets spoken is a word written by Shakespeare,” he said. “We’re just not using all of the words.”
Cobane said he plays Antigonus in the play, a small but famous role because of a stage direction calling for him to “exit pursued by a bear.” Shortly after, Antigonus dies from the attack then the tone of the play shifts to be more comical.
Nina Moll, who plays Perdita, described her character as the lost princess child who is later brought to the king.
Moll is performing with Vermont Theatre Company for her first time after moving to the area a year-and-a-half ago. She graduated from the New School with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in theater and wanted to leave New York City after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now, she’s attending graduate school at Dartmouth College and training at New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro.
CC Cassidy, stage manager, described her job as “the professional cat wrangler.” She ensures everyone is staying on task and provides any line readings to actors on stage.
A few years ago, Cassidy moved to Vermont from Michigan. This marks her first theater show since COVID-19.
“I love it so far,” Cassidy said. “The people are great. Everyone is wonderful. I’m quite thrilled. I can’t wait to do more with Vermont Theatre Company, to be honest.”
Cassidy said what makes “The Winter’s Tale” unique is the structure of having three acts which are “very, very tragic,” then suddenly the play shifts into “a pastoral comedy and this really romantic show.”
“It’s just an absurd dynamic between the two halves of the show,” she said. “It’s just wonderful. I really enjoy it.”
Speaking with the actors as they rehearsed, Cobane noted how the play includes “several love stories.”
Josh Platt, who also is new to the theater group, plays a character called Time and has a lot of smaller roles. He credited Ward with adding more scenes with Time to the script.
“Sometimes, I appear on stage invisible to the characters, just watching as a witness,” Platt said. “So it’s taken a shape that’s not in the play. It’s very much in Shannon’s vision. It’s been very fun to explore and contribute to.”
In the original play, Time only had one monologue. He comes out after intermission to explain to the audience that the story would be jumping 16 years ahead.
Ward had the idea for Time to be seen throughout the play. She called Platt “amazing.”
“He’s just taken it and run with it and I’ve just said ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” she said.
Ward has found the whole cast to be up for anything. They also have “really great ideas” and connected with the material, she said.
Her mom is playing Amelia, the nursemaid to the young prince.
Platt lives in Western Massachusetts. He said he’s performed with a few theater companies there.
“But boy am I glad that I came up and auditioned,” he said. “This group of people is great. I hope to work with them again.”
Platt called the play “ a real challenge.”
“As an actor, it’s always good to always be pushing a little bit,” he said. “Thematically, the play’s a weird, dark story but it’s also really funny. It flirts with madness in the main character but it may just be that he’s not crazy, that he’s just confused. But also on the level of the language, it’s much trickier than most Shakespeare is, you know. He writes in iambic pentameter. He still does (in ‘The Winter’s Tale) but it’s difficult to find the five beats in the lines.”
Platt said a good production will carry the audience along.
“If you don’t understand the words, you understand the human stakes,” he said. “There’s a lot of passion in the performances. I think that’s something the audiences can expect and engage with.”
Ward held auditions in October and started rehearsals the following month.
“We did a lot of rehearsals over Zoom,” she said. “December and January were pretty rough.”
Ward and a couple of cast members came down with COVID-19. She said the play was “too much to do in February so we kind of put it off.”
“We didn’t want to interfere with other VTC shows,” she said, as two other performances have been held in the meantime.
While a lot of the original cast for “The Winter’s Tale” are still on board for the August show, a few could not continue. Ward held auditions for those parts.
Ward said she’s “really impressed” with the cast, which includes a lot of new faces.
“The cast has really come together and (they’re) working really well together, even with a lot of changeups. Everyone has been incredibly flexible and really passionate about the show and really determined.”
Ward gave a special shoutout to the actors who were in the original cast but couldn’t be in the final show.
“The work that they did was so valuable to me and to the actors who wound up replacing them,” she said. “The work we did in the fall is evident in the show now. ... I couldn’t have asked for a better group both times that we’ve done this.”
Ward can’t recall exactly how the group decided to put on “The Winter’s Tale.” But somewhere along the way, she and Cobane found out that it’s each other’s favorite Shakespeare play.
Ward started working with the theater company in 2015 or 2016. She met Cobane in 2019 when he directed “Macbeth in the Park.”
“He’s been really helpful to me as a first-time director, helping me with logistical stuff because I have a lot of experience approaching plays as an actor and then there’s kind of a lot more to think about as a director,” she said. “And I’m also so lucky to have CC as a stage manager, who emailed VTC out of the blue.”
Ward said Cassidy is “going above and beyond” to help with the production.
In researching and preparing for the show, Ward learned that the title of the play refers more to a time when the tale might be told than the setting itself.
A promotional poster for the play says the show is for mature audiences. A lot of Vermont Theatre Company shows are for families but this one is different because of the venue and dark themes such as domestic abuse, Ward said.
Audience members must be masked and show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test. To make reservations, call 802-258-1344 or email email@example.com. During the 2021/2022 season, the theater company will be donating $1 for every ticket sold to Safe Place Child Advocacy.