The Rockland Shakespeare Company has been nominated for various awards for their service to the arts, including six nominations for the ACOR Award from the Arts Council of Rockland and six nominations for the ‘Best Arts Organization Award’ in Rockland County. We sat down with Co-Artistic Director Christopher Plummer to discuss some of his accomplishments and hopes for the Rockland Shakespeare Company.
Normally every person’s first experience with Shakespeare is in a classroom setting. This was no different for Christopher Plummer. ‘When Shakespeare was introduced to me in high school, it was in a very lifeless, cold and dare I say, academic presentation. There were some early teachers who presented it in an interesting way, but overall, there was a generic, mandatory feel from the teachers in terms of fitting it into their curricula. There was no passion from them, so how could any of their students feel any? It was not until I took a ‘Shakespeare on Stage’ acting course in college, that my passion for the Bard was ignited.’ Storytelling, however, was always Plummer’s passion. ‘Growing up an only child, I had a vivid imagination and a love for stories. I loved pretending to live out scenarios from some of my favorite stories and immerse myself in mythos of some of the grander tales…’
It’s no surprise then that when an opportunity came to create a Shakespeare Company in Rockland County, Plummer gladly accepted. ‘The Rockland Shakespeare Company began after a cross-departmental year of Shakespeare studies/appreciation was initiated in the Humanities Division at Rockland Community College.’ With no high hopes or expectations back in 1998, the success of their very first show, Romeo and Juliet, planted the seeds of possibility for years to come.
Almost 17 years later, the Rockland Shakespeare Company has been a stepping-stone for performers and participants alike. Plummer states, ‘Lawrence Saint-Victor, for one, played many roles in the RSC and then went on to soap opera fame (Guiding Light, The Bold and the Beautiful). Although not every company member is that fortunate professionally, many have still used their experience in the company as a stepping-stone to other things. We have a bevy of people who have never performed Shakespeare before, and some who have never even performed at all!’ These same individuals, whose first experience with theatre was the RSC, ‘branched out and worked at other theatres, gone on to get graduate degrees in theatre, created their own theatre troupes or even have taken different career paths production wise.’
What makes the RSC so popular? Maybe it’s their fresh and exciting take on classic theatre. Each summer, the Rockland Shakespeare Company produces at least one performance from the Bard. These plays are cast and presented in a totally new light. For example, in 2009, audiences ‘saw our version of Hamlet, set in Feudal Japan near the end of the Samurai reign.’ These productions allow audience members to really connect with the work on stage, and this year was no different. The Rockland Shakespeare Company presented three shows this summer, including Love’s Labour’s Lost. The RSC revised LLL and set it in the early 1940s, during WWII. According to Plummer, ‘The Company is always searching for inspiration and new ways of approaching old material… There are a set number of plays and therefore, it is inevitable to produce the same play more than once.’
When asked about some of the challenges when taking an iconic piece of literature and planting it in an entirely different setting, Plummer said, ‘There are always challenges and the inevitable forcing of a square peg in a round hole situation. The editing of certain dialogue helps to remedy those instances. However, more times that not, the themes and setting we chose work. That is because these stories are so universal. They are about people and relationships and all the things that make us human. The works themselves and the passion and human experience with which they were written is the primary reason for their adaptability. There are always going to be people who do not click or connect with some of our themes or settings, but that is also a human condition, a condition that makes life interesting and worth continual exploration.’
When asked where he sees the RSC heading in the future, Plummer muses, ‘I think the heart of the company will always be simple enthusiasts coming together to create and share in an experience. My hope is for that to continue. I believe it will as long as people desire to tell and hear stories… especially stories as rich and timeless as those of Shakespeare.‘
‘The actors are at hand; and by their show, You shall know all that you are like to know.’ — Sir William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
By Freia M. Titland