Celebrating the Bard at the Breckenridge Theatre
BRECKENRIDGE – Ten chairs, 10 actors, and the words of William Shakespeare. What more do you need for a magical evening at the theater?Nothing more at all, according to the Shakespeare Oratorio Society. The Boulder-based acting troupe will be bringing the words, and nothing but the words, to the Backstage Theatre in Breckenridge, giving two performances of “Twelfth Night” – just in time for the Shakespeare’s birthday, which is traditionally celebrated on April 23.As with most of the details of Shakespeare’s life, his birth and death dates (historically celebrated on the same day) are highly disputed by scholars – as, indeed, is his actual authorship of the plays and sonnets attributed to him. But whether you believe that Shakespeare was really Francis Bacon, or born in the month of December, it’s all a moot point when it comes to the time-transcending beauty of his words. And bringing those words to life in this modern day and age is the mission statement of the Oratorio Society.”People think that Shakespeare is beyond them, and our purpose is to focus on the text and bring clarity to it,” said Sally Sandoe, an actress, producer and director with the Society. “Our having the books in our hands is symbolic of our connection to the text.”The Oratorio Society presents Shakespeare’s plays in the form of staged readings, with a bare minimum of what they call “distractions.” The actors are seated onstage, scripts in hand, rather like the soloists seated in front of an orchestra in an oratorio performance, and they stay seated until it’s time for them to take part in a scene.Their current production of “Twelfth Night” will be done simply with 10 actors sitting in 10 chairs. This absence of sets makes for some ingenious imaginary scene shifting on the part of the performers.
“We’ve become dexterous in moving about and acting with a script in one hand,” said Sandoe. “For instance, in ‘Twelfth Night’ there’s a scene where the three foolish guys hide behind the trees, so the actors playing them will sit in their chairs and hide behind their scripts.”Only necessary props are used, and each actor is dressed in black with one identifying touch – such as an orange skirt or a purple scarf – to set the characters apart. To add an authentic period touch to the proceedings, several cast members will play musical instruments for the famous “If music be the food of love” scene. Sandoe will play a bowed psaltery, while another cast member will play a recorder.”Twelfth Night” marks the Society’s second trip to Breckenridge. The troupe brought “Othello” to the Backstage Theatre two years ago, and has been looking forward to a return trip ever since.”We come to Breckenridge at the end of our season as a treat to ourselves,” Sandoe said. “It’s fun to have a weekend there, and the Backstage Theatre treats us so well.”The Oratorio Society gives free performances several times a year at the CU campus at Boulder and at the Boulder Public Library. Sandoe said that students make up a great deal of their Boulder audience, which works well in fulfilling the troupe’s mission of education.
And, judging from their audience feedback, Sandoe said that the actors always know when they’ve hit the mark.”The payoff for me was once at the beginning of a performance of ‘Othello’ when I saw a student in the front row, sitting back with a ‘lets get this over with’ look,” Sandoe recalled. “Two minutes later I glanced over and he was sitting up straight, really listening, and by the end of play he was sitting on the edge of his seat, absolutely engrossed.”While some of Shakespeare’s plays lend themselves better to the “oratorio” style of performance, Sandoe says that “Twelfth Night,” with its comedic tale of shipwrecked twins Viola and Sebastian, royal love affairs and gender-bending disguises, is a winner whether it’s done as a staged reading or fully-staged production. “It’s got all the elements – mistaken identities, practical jokes, fools and clowns and romance,” she said. “Wrap all that up in Shakespeare’s words, and how can you miss?”‘Twelfth Night’
When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Where: Breckenridge Theatre, 121 South Ridge Street, Breck. Tickets: $15 for adults and $8 for children under 12. (970) 453-0199. .
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