Art & You: Shakespearemachine
For most people, hearing “Shakespeare” brings flashbacks to their high school nightmares. Shakespearemachine, led by Nick Tash and Halee Shutt, challenges that reaction through innovative, experimental productions.
Nick and Halee started Shakespearemachine just in 2015 hoping to bring a unique experience to audience members. “Halee and I noticed that there was starting to be an upswing in the creative community in Fort Wayne,” said Nick, “the scale and type of events offer[ed] was changing and involvement/interest from the community [was increasing]. This was the impetus for the creation of the company in the first place. And I had always harbored the suspicion that Fort Wayne audiences were looking to something in addition to the normal fare that was offered in Fort Wayne theatre.”
Shakespearmachine is a new theatre company dedicated to exploring the complete works of William Shakespeare through the use of masks and unusual audience-performer relationships. This type of performance is known as physical theatre, which rather than simply reflecting the action on stage as presented in the text, you “attempt to put into physical terms the subterranean undercurrents of the text. So, in that case, the stage is more poetic. It doesn’t always reflect a simple reality,” explained Nick.
As it pertains to Shakespeare, Halee said, “Shakespeare wrote in a language that is larger than life, and has so much emotion and scale literally within the text. However, modern acting styles tend more toward strict realism, which can sometimes tend to make actors disengage from their body. Everything becomes intellectual, not visceral. This is when Shakespeare gets deadly, because performing Shakespeare is, to me, about finding that perfect balance between the beautiful, intellectual wordplay and the guttural, instinctual, large emotional life of his characters. Thus, it is our theory that taking a more physical theatre approach to his work helps find that balance, making the material more engaging for performers and audience members alike.”
Nick says the role that masks play in this is that it challenges actors to live up to Shakespearean expectations. “It enlarges them, makes them bigger than life, which is what a Shakespearean character is. Shakespeare is not naturalism. Shakespeare’s language is heightened, and the actor’s body needs to be heightened too. I think the idea is that it will help bring the actor’s physicality up to the heights of the language. The mask takes away the face, the main organ of expression for an actor, and forces them to act with their whole body, calling into service every little piece of their body to express themselves. We are definitely still experimenting with the process, though, and results may vary. It’s ongoing thing.”
Now more than ever, people are looking for entry points to enjoying arts and culture. The desire for diverse, creative experiences regardless of their background or experience. Halee agrees, saying that Shakespearmachine’s approach to theatre aims to heighten accessibility to classical art through contemporary Shakespeare interpretations while retaining what makes it a true Shakespearean play. “Too often, especially with classical work in any field, many people (especially younger people) find the art difficult to relate to, engage with, and understand. Our goal is to break down that barrier and present a work of theatre that empowers our audience to enjoy these works, and to realize they are still relevant in today’s society.” Nick added “For us, it’s an effort to try to get people to see theatre as a viable option for entertainment, even people who would normally think that theatre isn’t really for them. We want to try to get people to see themselves in these stories, and realize that they are still speaking to them.”
Shakespearemachine’s latest production, Coriolanus, opens in the Parkview Physicians Group ArtsLab on Friday, October 21 at 8 PM and runs through Saturday, October 29. Find more show times and purchase tickets, and learn more about Shakespearemachine by visiting their website!