SPRINGVILLE—Shake on the Lake returns in 2017 with its sixth year, its first tragedy, three new cast members and its longest festival to date.
“Romeo and Juliet” is perhaps Shakespeare’s most famous work, and it will be the first time SOTL performs a tragedy for its summer festival. Co-founder, producing artistic director and actor Josh Rice said the plan was always to make Shakespeare more approachable through comedy before delving into his other plays.
“We knew for five years that comedies were going to be the way we established the company,” Rice said. “If after five years we couldn’t make people laugh, we certainly weren’t going to be able to entertain them with a tragedy.”
“It’s a super exciting challenge, because first of all, how do we make it our Romeo and Juliet? I think we made a lot of really fun design and conceptual choices in order to do that. We have a style with which we like to work, so we make the plays malleable to our style, and that gives us our comfort,” Rice said.
To help bring the story to life, SOTL brought in Zach Lusk as Romeo, Larissa Marthe Jeanniton as Juliet and Tré Whitley as Tybalt. Rice had Lusk and Jeanniton as students at Sarah Lawrence University and Pace University, respectively, and Whitley hails from Arkansas, where SOTL has strong connections. Rice praised them all as not only talented actors, but simply nice people he knew would work well with the company.
“Between the three of them, we’re really excited to make the company more diverse, and also show audiences a more diverse version of Romeo and Juliet, and one I think is more reflective of the world in 2017,” he said. “That’s part of what we do at Shake on the Lake; we need to reflect the world back at our audiences so they can see that it doesn’t matter what story we’re telling, it should still reflect the greater world we live in.”
Returning actors include Sharon Combs, Matt Duncan, Vinny Mraz, associate artistic director Chad Bradford, Courtney Bennet and Rice himself, who has not actually performed in Shake on the Lake since 2015. The company will perform 16 shows across eight counties, its most ever, and it added an extra week to the festival in order to accommodate the extra performances.
SOTL’s banner year comes at a time of high political tension when theater has already drawn conservative ire after a pointed performance of “Julius Caesar” by The Public Theater. While Rice said he thought that particular portrayal was a bit ham-fisted, he also said art should not necessarily be comfortable.
“I think theater and art in general should question and prod and challenge audiences,” he said. “If we’re not allowed to do that, we’re going to fight to be able to do that. We in the United States have this beautiful freedom of expression, and I think we should be allowed to say when things are unjust and we don’t agree.
“Part of doing ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was to reflect what’s going on in the country, more so the idea of this ‘us vs. them’ mentality that I think is happening all over the country. The election brought that out, and where people lie politically, especially conservatives vs. liberals or right vs. left, the Montagues vs. the Capulets is the same analogy,” Rice said. “That, to me, is what we’re most excited about. This is ‘us vs. them,’ and I think one of the sad parts of the story is it often takes a tragedy for people to come together and realize the mistakes they’ve made, or to finally stop quarreling and have a conversation. I think we’ve seen that throughout human history, and I’m not saying that’s going to happen in our current world, but ‘Romeo and Juliet’ puts the mirror up to what is happening.”
For more about Shake on the Lake visit shakeonthelake.org. The 2017 summer tour schedule is below.
6:30 p.m. Monday, July 31: Attica Attica Historical Society
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 1: Arcade Village of Arcade Park
6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2: Batavia Centennial Park
6:30 p.m. Thursday, August 3, 4 and 5: Silver Lake Perry Public Beach
2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5: Silver Lake, Perry Public Beach, 2:00 p.m.
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 8: Lyndonville Yates Community Library
6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9: Kent, Point Breeze Orleans County Marine Park (Lighthouse)
6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10: Springville SYI Park
8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 11: Ellicottville Downtown Gazebo
6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12: Niagara Falls “Shake on the Base” Niagara Falls Air Force Base