Flipping traditional theatre on its head and incorporating an actor’s personal interpretation of classic Shakespearean characters are just two things Make Trouble prides itself on when developing performances. Coming to Wilmington’s Lumina Festival at on July 28, Make Trouble will perform the classic “Love’s Labor’s Lost” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
“The essence of the plot [for ‘Love’s’] is Navarre [a lead character] and his crew have taken an oath to give up on love and any kind of corporeal indulgence for three years in order to turn their attention to studying,” explains Amanda McRaven, one of the company’s co-creative directors. “Of course the princess and her crew arrive and the men fall hopelessly in love, and have to deal with their intense feelings and the possibility of breaking their oath to each other. The audience can expect lots of silliness, song and dance. The play doesn’t take itself too seriously and in fact intentionally pokes fun at people—especially lovers.”
Make Trouble, which launched in summer of 2016 in Staunton, Virginia, is a seasonal training-intensive company that focuses on Shakespearean plays delivered with ensemble performances by college students and recent graduates. It is a culmination of creative influences from three different directors: McRaven, who lives in Los Angeles and is artistic director of ensemble theatre company Fugitive Kind; Thadd McQuade, who heads up Make Trouble in Virginia and has traveled the world doing performances and dedicated many years researching training methods on ensemble work; and Colleen Sullivan, who won’t be involved in the performance this year, but is a director and teacher of performance arts in the metro New York City area, and she also has her own small theater company called Duomuži.
“Thadd and I have known each other for 20 years,” McRaven shares. “We met doing theater in Charlottesville, Virginia. We have both directed, acted, and studied all over the world and . . . founded the program four years ago with Colleen. [We all] wanted to create a space to pool our collective experiences to teach young theater-makers what took us years to discover on our own.”
The program is five weeks long and designed like a repertory program, which means they perform in multiple, short intervals. With a goal to supplement academic training, students are taught how to create an ensemble, which McRaven says is typically only one course at most universities. “Rigor and bravery are at the forefront of what we do,” McRaven says. “‘Making trouble’ means being brave enough to make really bold, unconventional choices on stage, trusting that the ensemble will take care of you.” This year the company is made up of UNCW students Erin Sullivan, Bailey Watkins, Naswana Moon, and Allison Grady, CFCC’s Elias Anderson, Elon University’s Lauren Memry, University of Buffalo’s Jaimee Harmon, and Virginia Tech alumnus Pete Sheldon, who is on his third season with the company.
On top of running nearly all aspects of the program, both McRaven and McQuade direct. McRaven is directing “Love’s” while McQuade will direct “Romeo and Juliet,” but they also hold responsibilities in training the actors in voice and theater technique. “We share very similar inspirations and tastes,” McRaven says. “Both of us have been heavily influenced by Anne Bogart and SITI Company. I am trained as a director, so I tend to approach the training as a director and the show a bit more conceptually than Thadd does, but we both prioritize physicality, authenticity and joy.”
While “Romeo and Juliet” is a highly circulated and well-known work of Shakespeare, “Love’s Labor’s Lost” is a more obscure comedy, which is one reason why the directors decided to pair the shows together—to add balance. “‘Love’s’ was written as a satire of courtly love and of the Renaissance upper-crust’s obsession with wit and language,” McRaven says. “It’s light on plot and heavy on word play—essentially one long flirtation with a surprise ending.”
As a play originally written in the mid-1590s, one of the challenges the company has faced has been translating witty exchanges since the old English can seem foreign to contemporary actors and audiences. Many of the actors had never heard of “Love’s” before this season, so the unfamiliarity was an obstacle at first. “This ensemble is very brave and have jumped in feet first to craft their characters and personalize the text,” McRaven assures. “It has been really important to make it a story about millennials dealing with their feelings of love rather than trying to become Renaissance courtiers. We want it to be immediate and recognizable to our audience.”
The company is dedicated to imposing a unique vision into the original Shakespearean texts, which have been cut to suit the times and sensibilities of the ensemble. For example, in “Love’s” a few character’s from Shakespeare’s original play have been cut out to simplify the script, and some of the actors play more than one character. The language doesn’t change much but the plot situations have been adapted to appeal to a modern audience. “It’s very important to us that we work with young folks to imagine Shakespeare for their era and their generation” McRaven says. Each show is about 90 minutes long with no intermission, and all staging is devised by the company and shaped by the director.
McRaven and McQuade leave character interpretations up to each individual actor, allowing them to portray character personality or gender as they imagine best. “You will see a lot of gender fluidity in ‘Love’s,’” McRaven divulges. “This is, of course, in keeping with Shakespeare’s day when women weren’t allowed on the stage. But we also take it farther and let the performers decide the gender in which they would like to portray characters. In most Shakespeare plays it’s not necessary that women play men. Many of the comic characters are basically genderless to begin with.”
Anyone interested in attending Make Trouble’s “Romeo and Juliet” can do so on July 26 at 10:30 a.m. in UNCW’s Kenan Auditorium and “Love’s Labor’s Lost” at the UNCW Amphitheatre on July 28 at 5:30 p.m. Audience members can expect strange dance numbers, exaggerated characters, and an emotionally complex ending that challenges everything once thought about Shakespearean plays.
“Making theatre as an ensemble is a way of learning to live in the world better and make the world around you more empathetic, connected and abundant,” McRaven says. “We teach ensemble not as a means to an end, but as a way of living. We want young actors to learn that a life in the theater has many versions. We want them to leave empowered to make their own work and know what it feels like to take care of each other and share stories as ways of connecting humans in liveliness.”