By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Getting together with board members of Lionface Productions is a show in itself. The dialogue flows, scene-setting reminisces abound, and the talk is spiked with wit.
The troupe officially launched with a production in City Park of Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” in September, 2009 – Chase Greenlee nails down the date based on when he met his wife. Executive director Christina Hoekstra said 2017 is a “rebuilding year.” The troupe is poised for a rebound in 2018.
Late in the year for a staged reading of “Much Ado About Nothing” at Grounds for Thought. Stage readings will be more a focus said Ryan Halfhill, a founding member and vice chair of the board.
He along with Beth Rohrs, also a founder, are two of the voices behind the podcast, “Shakesbeer,” that’s recorded in Greenlee’s kitchen with his wife, Cassie, serving as “the voice of reason.” (Click here to listen.)
The podcast captures the Lionface approach to the Bard, conversational, casual, and even irreverent.
Many people are put off by how Shakespeare was taught in high school. “They put Shakespeare on a pedestal,” Halfhill said. “Hamlet is one of the greatest work in English literature,” teachers insist.
“It is,” he said, “but there are also a lot of dick jokes.”
Not that the Lionface only does Shakespeare. Its mission is three-pronged: Shakespeare and other classics such as Christopher Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus,” local plays, and contemporary works with edge.
Lionface sees part of its mission as sometimes making people squirm,” said Kat Moran, who chairs the board.
The troupe will put out a call for scripts, either one-acts or full length, Halfhill said. “I know from my writing friends how hard it is for them to get something read after they’ve written it, let alone if they’ve written a play, to get someone to put it on.”
“We’ve gotten a lot of great material that way,” Moran said.
The troupe will also be looking for directors interested in presenting staged readings of Shakespeare, probably in Grounds.
The troupe, like others on the scene, lacks a home.
Having a theater of its own is always a dream, said Kat Moran, but “not our focus.” That would probably take a rich benefactor or winning the lottery. In the meantime, they continue to stage plays where they can.
Lionface has staged plays in the old auditorium in South Main School, or the stage of Needle Hall when the stage was like the deck of a shipwreck, the old church on Court Street, and a motel room in the Quality Inn before it was torn down.
“We’ve been guerrilla theater from the very beginning,” Halfhill said.
That’s problematic in terms of getting a regular audience and securing funding, Moran said. “Getting dollar bills from people,” Halfhill said.
Still the troupe has persisted, even in the face of losing cast members at the last minute, or losing spaces, or even losing their founding artistic director, Michael Portteus.
He’s decided he needs to take a break, Halfhill said. His loss is balanced by the sense of freedom to move to new things, such as the podcast.
“We’re using the podcast to keep our name out there,” Halfhill said.
He and Rohrs talk Shakespeare. “We sit around and get drunk and talk about Shakespeare,” Halfhill said.
The first two episodes were on “Much Ado,” leading up to the show at Grounds. The third is the first part of a two-part discussion of “Othello.” The second part should drop Jan. 3. The episodes are posted every second Wednesday.
That’s just part of the goal of making Shakespeare accessible to more people.
“Whenever we do Shakespeare, we’ll always get someone new,” Hoekstra said. “The first time you do Shakespeare can be very daunting. The way Lionface approaches it is a very casual and comfortable manner, and you need to impress on people that it’s not scary, it’s not that hard.”
Being accessible also means having a flexible approach to casting across genders “We’ve all done pants roles,” said Moran of the female members of the troupe.
More women turn out for auditions, and given how talented they are, it would be a shame not to cast them, Hoekstra said.
Halfhill said that the troupe also reaches out to actors on campus, who may not get cast in university plays. “We’ve never shied away from giving people a chance,” he said.
Lionface has found its niche within a vibrant area theater scene, she said.
There’s a fair amount of interplay among actors associated with the various companies. Lionface, members help teach Shakespeare to Horizon Youth Theatre kids.
Halfhill said that Lionface is determined to remain part of the theatrical scene. “As long as we can get people interested in coming to see us, and coming out to be in our shows, we’ll continue doing it,” he said. “It’s like a kid to us.”
Moran added: “You can’t let it go.”