Jason Compton believes there are cool stories hidden in the (mostly) unproduced corners of the classical theater canon. With his latest project, he wants to bring them to life.
This Thursday, Falconbridge Players conducts an hour-long workshop of “The Rover,” a 17th century Restoration comedy by Aphra Behn, whose life as a spy and an early female playwright was the subject of Forward Theater Company's farce "Or" in 2014.
The event is free at Arts + Literature Laboratory on Winnebago Street. Anyone can come and read a part.
It’s the first of what Compton and collaborator Marie Freese hope will be a series of interactive readings of classical texts in the public domain.
“We’re doing taking some of these not just lesser known but lesser polished works, and picking about an hour of it with an eye toward what we can discover,” Compton said. “Is it, ‘This should get more thorough attention’ or ‘This is a historical novelty?’ Or is it, ‘Wow, let us never speak of this again?’”
Compton named Falconbridge Players for a character in a non-Shakespearean late-1500s history play. “The bastard Falconbridge” attempts to overthrow the king in “Edward IV” by Thomas Heywood.
“It’s the best worst play in the canon,” said Compton, currently the executive director of Madison Shakespeare Company. “Thomas Heywood was a hack compared to the contemporaries that most people know about, but (‘Edward IV’) is this fantastic, over-the-top history.”
In recent years, MSC has staged “Henry IV, Part Two” and “As You Like It.” It also launched “Sloshed Shakespeare” productions of “Antony and Cleopatra,” “Taming of the Shrew” and “Macbeth” produced at High Noon Saloon and Capital Brewery. In addition to Madison Shakespeare, Compton is involved in Left of Left Center, which produces new, original work.
Compton said the Falconbridge events will be more casual than staged readings. If someone shows up, listens for a little bit and decides they want to read a part, there should be opportunities for that.
“We’re starting with the workshop to see what would it take to have the right polish on this so that it’s accessible,” Compton said. “Is this a story that’s interesting to tell, or is it something nobody wants to hear anymore? Taking it on in a tidy workshop setting is a nice way to discover what’s worth doing.”
Future workshops could include Greek and Roman plays like “Electra” and “Phaedra,” the tragedy “’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” and the Restoration comedy “The Country Wife.” Compton likes working in the public domain because it gives the creative team more freedom.
“In the early 1600s there was a play with essentially all of the elements of ‘Caddyshack,’” Compton said. People might think it’s “great elevated literature, a historical play about an English king. But it’s basically a summer popcorn movie framed as a story of this king’s reign.”
Falconbridge Players is one of several companies to join the theater scene in recent years. Upstart Crows, started by Young Shakespeare Players alumni, has staged works by Shakespeare, Wilde and Shaw. Out in Spring Green, Two Crows Theatre Company debuted last season and hosted readings all spring.
Fermat’s Last Theater Company, founded in 2013 by David Simmons, recently announced an August reading of “Anna Akhmatova and the Engineers of the Human Soul.” This evening of poetry, journal entries and testimony is set to be performed Aug. 2-3 at Arts + Literature Laboratory.
Compton hopes Falconbridge can work up to staging traditional theater (“you give us money, we give you entertainment” style, he said). The workshops are a start.
“We want to make classic theater and storytelling available and accessible close to where people live and work,” he said. “We’re discovering things and bringing them to audiences as an alternative to plays people already know.”