Brush Up Your Shakespeare

Comedy of Errors SimpsonFace it, Shakespeare is not always the most accessible work. Language and setting are sometimes a struggle, so placing a show in a new and different arena can often create a bridge to understanding. Simpson College is doing exactly that with their production of The Comedy of Errors, taking place this Friday through Monday (November 18-21) in Indianola.

One of the performers, Addison Grant, knows full well what kind of challenges and rewards can come from being a part of the Shakespearean experience. 

“I've been in a production of Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream. I felt pretty comfortable with the language coming in, but Shakespeare's work is so intricate that, even with prior knowledge, I knew I still needed to stay on top of memorizing and understanding this show. Approaching Shakespeare is different than other theatre because the rhyme and rhythms and the words Shakespeare used to write his plays are more than just dialogue. The language tells the audience about the setting, the characters, the props, and the action. I love the way Shakespeare's works taste.”

The “new and different arena” for this production moves the setting of the farcical comedy from ancient times to a vaudeville theatre of the early 1900's. As one of Shakespeare's most slapstick and pun-filled works, this is a most appropriate update.  Addison continues:

“I think this choice of setting the show with a vaudevillian idea will not only make it easier for the audience to understand the language (I know that I have found it easier), but it will also be another layer that adds to the complexity of the show. Parts of the show are played up more in this setting than I think would be played up in a traditional setting. Luckily, Shakespeare's works lend themselves to change of setting so easily.” 

Another member of the production, Blake Carlson, enjoys the variety the setting brings to the work.

“For the average audience member, the Shakespearean text in general is difficult to follow, therefore the comedic antics which accompany the old time setting help the comprehension of the storyline. For the actor, this style allows for a whole new chest of tools in regards to choices that can be made in characterization. In addition to all of this, it allows the audience to sort of be encapsulated inside this very unique world of the theatre.”

In addition to the regular Friday through Sunday shows, the Monday performance is part of the High School Theatre Festival, held each year for the past two decades at Simpson. Over 300 high school students from all over the state will take part in workshops and seminars, culminating in a performance of The Comedy of Errors at the Pote Theatre on campus.

Well over a dozen different classes will be taught, on theatre topics as diverse as Stage Combat, Musical Theatre Techniques, Scene Painting, Careers in Stage Management, Playwriting, and more. Simpson theatre faculty, current students, and alumni will be leading the attendees in these various disciplines, and then all will be able to see many of these varied elements put together into a show.

“I think our students really enjoy performing for the high school students,” says Jennifer Nostrala, Department Chair for Theatre at Simpson, who has been part of the Festival since its beginning 20 years ago. “Many of our current students remember coming to a festival when they were in high school. I know that they like it when the students from their former school get to see them in a college production.”

Blake Carlson emphasizes the insights that the high school students will receive. “The most important thing I hope the attendees take away from the Festival experience is a look into what a collegiate theatre company actually is on the inside. I think, to the average high school student, the notion of going into a college level department seems to be rather intimidating and frightening on the surface. But this is simply not the case, we as students work to support each other in our endeavors and realize we are all on our own individual journeys in the theatre. This all happens while we continue to receive a professional experience which prepares us for future employment in the field.”

And back to Addison to sum up the festival experience:

“I really hope that students come away understanding that Shakespeare is more than difficult language. Shakespeare is so funny and so much more than romances and tragedies. I hope that students leave the workshops and the performance knowing that they can do theatre in college, and that if they're passionate about theatre, they should pursue it. I am so excited to perform for students because I think this show is one that they will really enjoy.”

Members of the troupe, including Addison and Blake, performed brief scenes at various venues around the area over the past few weeks, promoting the show.  They've had quite a process putting this all together, and hope that everyone else enjoys it as much as they have.

“Seeing this show move from the very first read-throughs to the place it is is at now, and looking toward the future performances, I think this production of Comedy of Errors will be a show that will stick in our audiences' memories long after they have left the theatre,” says Addison. “It's high energy, high comedy, and high talent. This company has made such leaps and bounds to put together a show that will delight, surprise, and entertain anyone who attends.”

Simpson College presents Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors on November 18-21 at the Pote Theatre in the Blank Performing Arts Hall in Indianola.


Jennifer Nostrala Blake Carlson Addison Grant Shakespeare The Comedy of Errors High School Theatre Festival Simpson College