On June 9th, ASC began rehearsals for its 2020 SafeStart Season. Of course, rehearsals look a bit different this year. We are wearing masks. We are social distancing. Most importantly, we are collaborating with local health officials and following the CDC guidelines. We are working tirelessly to ensure that when you return to Blackfriars to see Twelfth Night or Othello, it will be in the safest and most comfortable way possible.

Fostering community is one of the core tenets of ASC’s mission. We want you to know us, so we caught up with Jessica, our stage manager, and Rhi, our properties master, to ask them how they spent quarantine, how rehearsals are going, and how ASC SafeStart works for them. They might even have shared some insider information, if we’re lucky. It’s time to go behind the scenes — let’s go!


Who are you? 

My name is Jessica Casanova. I’m from Houston, Texas. I recently graduated from The University of Houston with a BFA in Stage Management. Last summer, I was a Production Assistant here at ASC.  I am absolutely thrilled to be back for this season!

Note: Jessica is currently the Stage Manager of our 2020 SafeStart Season.

Jessica Casanova
Jessica Casanova
What have rehearsals been like so far?

It has been so much fun. It is great to be back in rehearsal after almost four months of not working, and being back in the Playhouse has been a dream. 

Rehearsing  [Othello and Twelfth Night] in repertory has been exciting! We started with a week of Twelfth Night, and then a week of Othello. Most recently we have been doing three days of one play and then three days of the other! While they are very different, they both have great jokes, energetic fights, and beautiful music so every day is a blast.

How does the Summer 2020 season feel different from your past experiences at ASC?

It is very different and yet very much the same. We find ourselves saying “This is how we did this in the past…” and then realizing that…we’re having to re-invent a little bit as we go. Of course, the biggest difference is performing in two spaces. Many of these actors know the ins and outs of the Blackfriars, but transferring these shows to an outdoor venue is a unique challenge!

Note: You can see Othello and Twelfth Night at the Blackfriars Playhouse or under the stars on the lawn of the Blackburn Inn and Conference Center. More info here.

How have current events shaped how you do your job? 

Obviously, we are now taking precautions that weren’t even considered in the past. Additionally, all of the news surrounding Black Lives Matter has driven me to do research and educate myself on how I can advocate for every individual in the cast and team. 

What has excited you most so far this season? What are you looking forward to?

The thought of performing at the Blackburn Inn has me so stoked. I hope patrons who usually enjoy our shows at the Playhouse make the three-minute trip across the tracks to see us outdoors! It’s going to be a different experience, but one with all of the ASC mechanics you know and love.

The Blackburn Inn and Conference Center
Photo courtesy of The Blackburn Inn and Conference Center
As the Stage Manager, you have an intimate acquaintance with everything  that’s happening on and off stage. Is there anything audiences should look out for?

Cross-garters, sword fights and fire, oh my! These two shows are so different but there is something in them for everybody!

What else do you want people to know?

Wear a mask. Black Lives Matter. Support your local arts organizations. Go Bears!


Who are you? 

My name is Rhi Sanders. I have been the Properties Master since January. I grew up 45 minutes outside  Washington, D.C., in the backwoods. I’ve always done theatre, and after getting my BA from Virginia Tech, I moved to Boston for my apprenticeship. I honestly didn’t know anything about ASC until early 2019; I was never really interested in Shakespeare. Now though, I think he’s pretty great and the things we do here are beautiful. It’s changed my perspective and given me the opportunity to learn more about myself and my craft. 

Rhi Sanders
Rhi Sanders
What about this season is challenging or inspiring you? 

This season is definitely challenging. You’re no longer just being reactive; you are brought into the planning of each piece that someone will touch. It’s very deliberate. Working with the team here definitely sparks creativity, especially when we have the constraints of this season with which to work. You don’t have all the same resources available, you know? The guy you normally call for metalwork is shut down for the time being and even ordering packages from Amazon is a bit of a toss up on their arrival. Is it gonna be on time? Will it go to the right place? How much time can I devote to finding lost mail? 

I’ve had to get creative with taking things apart and putting them back together to make new objects. Right now I’m making a telegraph out of an old camera case, some fans, a compass and a potato masher. So the inspiration comes from the things that are at my fingertips, the directors’ asks, and what I’m watching happen onstage. There’s a lot more reliance on what’s already here or what I can reasonably build myself.

I’ve had to create [new] workspaces for myself or take some things home in order to maintain the safety protocols. Circumstances change so often in this ongoing-pandemic environment that the procedures might be different when you wake up than what you’d gone to bed with. On the bright side, the demanded flexibility of theatre has made that part easy.

How does it feel to be back in the Blackfriars? What would you say to people who don’t see theater as essential?

I am very happy to be back. I love this place a lot. I’m a bit of a homebody, but not being here, not making theatre from March to almost June, was odd. 

Mia Wurgaft and Jessika Williams rehearse in the Blackfriars Playhouse. Photo by Dan Hasse.

Theatre is the basic beginnings of this thing we call television that has become the focus of homes and conversations across the world. If you don’t think theatre — the arts in general — is essential, take a look at how you’re living your life right now. How many hours a day do you devote to streaming services or books or podcasts? Those are artforms. Those are your coping mechanisms. I think art at its basis is storytelling, and storytelling, as we’ve seen for thousands of years, moves people. It drives them to be better, captivates their hearts, and teaches them to see from new points of view. It’s the best way we communicate. You can’t say that is non-essential.

What else do you want people to know?

My craft is my joy. It is how I make myself useful. We are doing our best here just like everyone else. And I think that is all we can ask for right now.

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AND — be sure to check our website for ticketing information. Plus, we now have Shakespeare Mustache Face Masks for sale — pick one up in our online gift shop!

We can’t wait to welcome you back to the Blackfriars Playhouse this week.