Six years after its founding in 2011 Madison Shakespeare Company is ready to swap their tragedy mask for its comedic counterpart with their first full-length comedy production.
“It’s time to let people know that we aren’t a company that strictly does tragedies,” said “As You Like It” director Emily Morrison Weeks.
MSC is beginning its comedic resume with “As You Like It” this summer to continue their mission of providing affordable classical theater to Madison-area audiences.
In “As You Like It,” Duke Senior is banished from court by his brother Duke Frederick. Duke Senior flees into the Forest of Arden shortly before his daughter Rosalind is also banished. Rosalind and her friend Celia flee to the forest as well and disguise themselves. Then Rosalind, dressed as a man, falls in love with the also-banished Orlando.
Morrison Weeks said previous shows produced by MSC were shows that the directors had always dreamed of directing. like “Macbeth” or “Anthony and Cleopatra,” but now the company is branching out into other territory.
In keeping with MSC’s tradition of producing more experimental work in the winter season and more traditional fare for the summer, Morrison Weeks is not putting any thematic elements on top of her production.
She said she’s allowing it to be mostly “as it was intended.”
The show will use lyrics written for the play along with original music written by Tom Kastle, who plays Amiens in the production.
Morrison Weeks said the lyrics written by Shakespeare are available for the play, but without the music to accompany them, so the company has “a lot of freedom to play” with the show’s musical elements.
“I put my spin on it here and there, but there isn’t a big extravagant modernized theme that I’m trying to put to it,” she said. “I felt like that would compete with doing it outside and although you could, certainly, layer something onto it, I wanted to highlight the beauty of the forest and use it. The play is so much about the forest that I wanted people to pay attention to that.”
Focusing on the forest won’t be hard for audiences to do as the play will be performed in Edgewood College’s outdoor amphitheater.
With all of the trees surrounding it, the amphitheater could not be a more perfect performance space for a production of “As You Like It,” Morrison Weeks said.
Not only is the forest a literal setting for the play’s characters, it’s nearly a character itself as it leads the various players into changes throughout the show.
“The forest has a lot of transformative properties for these characters,” Morrison Weeks said. “A lot of them start out in court and things don’t go well for them. As they are banished or flee into the forest they end up finding more about themselves. ... I wanted the forest to be a character in itself.”
Nature around the amphitheater served an entirely different purpose with last season’s production of “Macbeth,” which involved rolling dead characters off stage.
There are no dead characters in “As You Like It,” which is “a bit unusual” for the company since they’re so used to performing tragedy, Morrison Weeks said.
Shakespearean tragedy diehards should have no fear, however, since there is always something in the Bard’s comedies for everyone to enjoy.
“In any good comedy there are nuggets of — not necessarily tragedy — but grounded-ness or seriousness,” Morrison Weeks said. “That’s necessary to make the comedy shine. ... I think that it’s worth coming (to the show) to search for the contrasts. If you are a dedicated tragedy lover you can find some of what you love in this play, too.”