Bickering lovers, quarrelling siblings, people living in the wilderness, gender confusion — sounds a lot like reality television, but in fact it is Shakespeare. "As You Like It" to be more precise, and it is coming to Morven Park July 12-13, 19-20 and 26-27 thanks to Not Just Shakespeare, a local theater group that puts on yearly Shakespearean and other classical plays. What isn’t so classical is that there will be no stage.
"It’s set at Morven Park outside by a gorgeous lake, so we have no set except the trees and the grass and we have no lights and no sound so its just us acting at daylight," Jack Solano who will be playing Orlando, one of the leading roles in the play, said.
The outdoor setting for the play is not just a gimmick but actually fits in with the play's story, which involves two ladies of the court running away to the forest with the court jester and one disguised as a man. The forested backdrop of Morven Park mimics where the play may have taken place and allows for a closer intimacy between the audience and the performers since there is no stage between the two.
"The reason I chose this play," Tim Jon, the play's director and head of Not Just Shakespeare said, "was the location. If you go look at the reflecting pool we’re performing near, it perfectly suits the play. I walked around the park for several hours before I came to the pool and knew it was just perfect."
The play’s cast is enjoying working outside, too. Jack Seely, who is playing Corin, said that working outside offers a different challenge to actors not just in performing but also in making sure the audience can hear them and understand what is going on. Many of the actors, who range in age from 5 years old to mature adults, said that rehearsing and performing outside has been a great learning experience.
Aside from taking place outside, the performance will not be deviating too much from Shakespeare’s original ideas. Costumes and actions will all pertain to Shakespeare’s time, as the playwright original wrote it. As far as Jon’s interpretation of the play goes, it is not updating or changing the look or feel.
"I think the approach to it is fairly typical, the interpretation and the way it’s being played isn’t very radical, but I think the setting really is the most interesting and unique part of it," Seely said.
The other thing that interests many of the performers, and Jon himself, is part of the reason that Not Just Shakespeare is around — Shakespeare’s writing itself. "As You Like It" is one of Shakespeare's’ lighter comedies and as such allows for a fun performance that still has the intelligence and depth of Shakespeare.
"It’s a great play for Shakespeare. I haven’t read all that much, but I’ve read enough to be able to tell what I do and don’t like," Solano, who is a rising junior at Loudoun Valley High School, said. "The language is obviously beautiful and there is humor and romance. It’s a very lighthearted play with characters switching gender and doing some crazy things. It’s just a fun play to do."
ACTORS IN THE play come from throughout Loudoun and had to audition, though Jon said that they try to get everyone who is interested involved if they can. Actors for this play have a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds from novices to professional actors.
"I think they’re all wonderful. Tim Jon was an equity actor, there are plenty of aspiring actors and actresses who have been involved with professional acting. There are people that have done it on the high-school and college level. With a director who has the vision and the experience of all the actors I think they have an incredible quality," Pati Roberts the communications director for Not Just Shakespeare and a member of its board, said. It isn’t just the actors who are local. Costumes, props and what little sets there are will be created by area residents who work with Not Just Shakespeare on a regular basis.
Rehearsals have been going on for the past month almost every night of the week. Actors were required to come in off book at the beginning of rehearsals, having been given a few weeks to learn their lines on their own. This was in hopes of allowing people’s schedules to be more open and needing less rehearsal time in the long run since most of the performers have jobs and participate in other activities throughout the summer. This doesn’t mean that the actors don’t all have a strong passion for performing.
"What I’ve had the opportunity to do is watch them as an observer, but still be intimately involved with the play and I’ve found that they really have a passion for it and they all really want to share a great time with people," Roberts, whose daughter is performing in the play, said.
NOT JUST SHAKESPEARE has been around for the past 10 years, all of them under the direction of Jon. The group was formed after Jon and some other actors finished a play and wanted more opportunities to act in the area. After some discussion, Jon was put in charge and Not Just Shakespeare was born.
"We wanted to act more and we also wanted some local community education on classical theater," Jon said. "Specifically we wanted to be able to teach people how it was done. I think it’s unique for a growing county like Loudoun to have this kind of experience in classical theater."
One of the goals of Not Just Shakespeare is to allow local and aspiring actors a chance to perform in a professional setting and learn from each other. Roberts said that Jon is good at teaching actors of all ages how to work with Shakespeare and other classical playwrights. He will even do one-on-one rehearsals with performers to help them work with their lines.
"I think that he teaches so well, it is just a gift that he has been given," Roberts said. "He builds the actors up and tries to work with them and get them all working together."
Not Just Shakespeare’s experience is open to anyone who wants to learn, too. The group holds tryouts for all of their performances and casts an entire range of ages. Working with a large variety of actors with different experiences is something that Solano said helped him become a better actor.
"Absolutely anyone can do it from all ages," Solano said. "We have actors who are 4 or 5 and then actors who are much older. Anyone of any skill level can try out and if you do get in, it’s guaranteed that it will be worthwhile for you."
This worthwhile experience is all funded by local donations and profits made from ticket sales. Not Just Shakespeare runs a few fund-raisers throughout the year as well. The group is always looking for help, too.
"We’ve got plenty of stuff to do and I need a whole lot of talent to do it, so people are always welcome to help," Jon said.