It has been a long year in lockdown, but summer has once again arrived in Staunton and we’re celebrating the rising temperatures (and vaccination rates!) with some of Shakespeare’s most celebrated plays. ASC kicked off its Actor’s Renaissance Summer season in May with a production of Macbeth, which just closed outdoors at MBU’s Rose Terrace and will reopen indoors at our own beloved Blackfriars Playhouse this weekend. And, just a few weeks ago, we debuted our rendition of Henry V, which is also performing at the Playhouse. Our third show of the season, All’s Well That Ends Well will join the other titles in repertory starting August 5!
Not only have we been able to welcome audiences back to the Blackfriars Playhouse, but we’ve added seven fellows to our ASC family! We caught up with two of our acting fellows, Summer England and Natasia Reinhardt, to get an inside look at the rehearsal process, hear about their time at the Mary Baldwin University Shakespeare & Performance program, and discuss how the pandemic has changed the theater landscape (in the best way possible). They may have even provided some sneak peeks into this season’s shows…
Tell us a little bit about yourself (where you’re from, how you came to ASC, etc.)
Summer: I am originally from the Cincinnati, Ohio area and I came to Virginia for Mary Baldwin University’s Shakespeare and Performance program. I did the full three years there, so I have my Master of Letters and my Master of Fine Arts in Shakespeare and Performance. For a while, we weren’t sure if, because of COVID-19, ASC was going to be hiring or going to have a season. But then we got an email saying they were looking for auditionees, and we auditioned and now we’re here!
Natasia: I am also from Cincinnati, Ohio. I was a post-baccalaureate student at Mary Baldwin University, which means I was here for two years and I only received my MFA degree because I came in with my Master of Arts in Performance, Practice and Pedagogy from Miami University in Ohio. We got that email saying they needed a couple fellows, and we were the lucky ones.
Describe a day in your life as an acting fellow.
Natasia: So there are four acting fellows, and we have been contracted to do two out of the three main stage shows and understudy for that third show. We normally start rehearsal at 10 a.m. with a call, and if you are not in the show you are able to come to any [open] rehearsals but you are not required to, which means we are able to have this really lovely work-life balance which ASC encourages. We can do all the same things as the full-time actors. We learn the songs, we sing, we play instruments, and we assist in different duties when possible. We also have this very deep connection to the actor-managers that they cultivated this year, so we have a direct line into the field.
What has been your favorite memory from the rehearsal process so far?
Summer: I think just in general, I really love the music process. Any time we work on music it’s just a great memory. There’s kind of a scruffiness to how we put together the music. Like during our first music rehearsal ever at ASC, we were all given our parts and a rundown of the song; then, we listened to the song and Chris Johnston was like, “Let’s see what happens,” and we all just tried to do what we could together. It was such a leveling, fun process that we are all learning together no matter how long we had been there.
How have rehearsals been in this semi post-pandemic world?
Summer: We worked for the first couple of weeks masked as everyone got their two-week vaccination cushion finished. After that, our rehearsals have been unmasked and our performances are unmasked. It really does feel like we have come back to live theater again in a really exciting way. ASC is particularly special because we can see our audiences, and that has been great as we have all reentered back into bigger audiences and interacting with crowds, because even though our audience is still masked inside, there is still that eye contact and sharing in an experience that we have not gotten to do for a year and a half at this point.
Natasia: Because we came from the Mary Baldwin program where we had to perform with masks, it has been a joy to have the full-body acting experience again and to re-engage our face and our bodies and work on the instrument.
How did your time at Mary Baldwin prepare you for your fellowship with ASC?
Natasia: Summer and I were talking yesterday about how we are so lucky that they are doing a Renaissance season because that is how we have worked for the past couple years at Mary Baldwin. It’s a scrappy program and it’s all based in dreams basically. Bring your best ideas and mold them together. Build them into something special for the audience.
Summer: I think it is really interesting, specifically in this new actor-manager model where the actors have much more of an investment in the collaborative process, because that is absolutely what we have done for the last three years. In our MFA program, every actor participates in the shows and you [also] have a production role and you are working on marketing, so you are very much invested in all parts of the creative process and also learning how to collaborate with one another, field voices, and make sure everyone is being heard. And, we were trained for the Blackfriars stage as well so in every way we have been prepped to come into ASC as it is.
What role are you most excited about this year and why?
Summer: In Henry V, I have a scene with Chris Johnston, and I’m excited any time I get to be on stage with Chris Johnston because he is such an exciting actor to work with. Every night is a little bit different, in a good way, because he keeps the energy up, so any time I get to work on that scene with him is just awesome.
Natasia: I saw a really great production of Macbeth when I was an undergrad, and I really loved the witches. So getting to be the First Witch in Macbeth has been a joy and a dream and awesome.
How has this past year in lockdown changed your relationship to theater?
Summer: This year has taught me the difference between what you need to tell a story and what you want to tell a story. In the Mary Baldwin program, because we were operating under such strict COVID restrictions with masks and everything, there was this kind of daunting thing of, “Oh we won’t have all these things we’re used to having — touch, interaction, half of our face”— but through that I learned that theater does not require those things. It really just requires a person, in some capacity — could be digital, could be live — telling a story, and there are so many different ways [to do that.] This year really broke open the boundaries of theater even as the boundaries were so tight. I think [those boundaries] made creativity more explosive than before.
Natasia: I do a lot of intimacy work, and I would say this past year has really shown the importance of different styles that you can use to have intimacy on stage. Whether that’s familial or romantic, we can engage in different behaviors that really tell the story in any circumstance. So you can’t touch, but you can still breathe together and look into each other’s eyes and even perform certain motions at a distance, and it doesn’t take away from the experience. Coming into ASC where we don’t have as many restrictions institutionally around intimacy, getting to see the shock and the vibrancy and the tensions has solidified my joy from being a part of it and watching and choreographing that.
What are your dream roles?
Natasia: I would really love to play Katherine in Taming of the Shrew and another Katherine, Katherine Howard, in Six, the musical.
Summer: Non-Shakespeare, I would love to be Christina Daaé in Phantom of the Opera. Shakespeare, I would love to be Helena in All’s Well that Ends Well.
What is one thing that you want audiences to know before coming to see a show?
Natasia: Coming to the Blackfriars is a different experience than coming outdoors for Macbeth. In the Blackfriars, I really want people to know that it is ok to breathe with us and to step into our shoes and be one with the play. Even though we don’t have the gallant stools where they sit on stage with us, we are still reaching for that connection, for that human experience.
Summer: Get ready to not be passive. As actors, we are so ready to interact with you. So get ready to smile at us, laugh, wave if you want to. We are looking for that, especially in Macbeth in the Porter scene. The Porter is going to ask you about yourself, and you should answer. Out loud.
Like this post? Be sure to tag us on social media! And, tickets are on sale now for the Actors’ Renaissance Summer 2021 season, so check out our website for more information.
BY KATHRYN BAKER, MARKETING INTERN