Hello A.B.L.E. Friends,
As some of our more devoted followers may know, I’m on teaching sabbatical from A.B.L.E. this year as I pursue a master degree in Applied Theatre from Royal Central School for Speech and Drama. I’m in the land of Shakespeare and was excited to spend part of this past weekend celebrating his 453rd birthday on the South Bank at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Throughout the weekend, fans of the Bard strung roses through the gates infront of the theatre, and I was with a crowd that packed the wooden O to see Romeo & Juliet under the stars on Saturday night.
I have an unabashed soft spot for Shakespeare, and I’ve spoken before about why I feel Shakespeare is the perfect fit for our ensemble. But of course, I know that there are others for whom Shakespeare instils thoughts of fear, boredom, or isolation. Without fail, each time A.B.L.E. embarks on a new Shakespeare play I hear the same comments:
“I don’t know if I’ll understand it…”
“How will that work?”
“That’s going to be really hard”
“Aren’t you setting them up to fail?”
I’ve heard similar responses to our most recent programming choice of Pirates of Penzance. Let’s be honest, when you hear the word “opera” what picture pops into your head? Who is opera for? Do you belong at the opera?
These concerns are well-meaning; we are all hoping to nurture positive experiences from our ensemble and to see our actors succeed. It’s no secret the actors in our ensemble are working against societal preconceptions. And so, in its own way, is classical theatre. There is an automatic implication that it’s hard to understand. It’s foreign. It should be held at arms-length. It has to be treated “a certain way.”
This is why, while our devised shows like Such Stuff and What You Will are a crucial part of our programming, classical theatre has and will remain a cornerstone of A.B.L.E.’s work in all our many incarnations over the years. Shakespeare, yes, but also Dickens, Carrol, and now Gilbert & Sullivan.
A canonical story has a sense of universality to it that appeals across generations and demographics. But, beyond that, they have weight. There is something for our actors to know that what they’re working on is revered, and that they are next in a long line of actors who have tackled a cherished role. When Rachel became the first actor to officially graduate from A.B.L.E.’s core ensemble at 22, she had a resume that would make many professional actors seethe with jealousy – Juliet, Puck, Titania, The Wicked Witch, Katherine, Caliban, The Red Queen, Viola – these roles reflect an emotional and physical diversity worth aspiring to. By picking stories of high value, we also value our actors and their depth. It shows our confidence in them, and, so doing, helps them develop confidence in themselves. We're also hopefully challenging our audiences to change their perceptions too.
Our goal at A.B.L.E. is to ensure everyone feels they have a place, and everyone has equal access to artistic opportunities. Whether that’s field trips to see professional productions and adaptations, making our own pieces, or tackling a classic story, we believe the theatre is for everybody. Not just our ensemble, but YOU too.
I hope we’ll see you at Victory Gardens on Saturday May 20th at 1pm for A.B.L.E.’s first operetta. Maybe it will be your first operetta too. Don’t worry, you belong there.
With love and thanks for your continued support,