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How Not to Write a Play, or Why the Tea is Cold

by Jessica Osnoe, writer and director of Maid Marian

      If I sit down to write a play, I’ll invariably want some tea for the process. Of course, making tea is a process unto itself in my house. So, I go first to the tea cabinet (yes, it has its own cabinet) to decide which brew will most suit my mood and the scene(s) I feel like writing today. Do I need a rich, robust flavor that can sustain a touch of milk for ploughing through some dense action? (A fascinating flavor profile is Fortnum and Mason Smoky Earl Grey, which I swear smells like Henry VIII’s kitchens at Hampton Court Palace.) Do I want something citrusy and exotic to inspire new ideas? (My favorite here: Fortnum and Mason Countess Grey.) Should I go for something floral and fruity with a touch of honey to be series-appropriate? #Honey (Harney and Sons Tower of London is unparalleled for this flavor blend in my experience.) This could go on for a while….
       Once I settle on a tea choice and turn on the kettle, there’s the question of a vessel. A mug or a pot? Does the setup need to be Instagram-worthy? If I make a pot of tea to last me for the duration, of course it should be in the Robin Hood teapot. As I pull the teapot off the shelf, of course I wonder about the story of the action it depicts. Did Robin and his Merry Men actually venture so boldly to the local pub, bask in the sun and raise a tankard of ale? Naturally, I’ll want to investigate this possibility in the legends.
      Whilst spiraling down this tunnel of digital inquiry, the kettle whistles and reminds me to brew the tea which I set out to make in the first place. The smell of the tea brewing (Tower of London, for those curious as to my final choice) reminds me that I wanted to look up different kinds of fruit trees native to English forests that might be relevant to the story. I’ll add that to my must-google list, because I have learned the hard way not to leave tea steeping too long. Having steeped the tea and replaced the thatched-roof lid of the pot, I go to choose a teacup, a process which can be as involved as the tea or teapot selection.
     Fortunately, I’m distracted at this point by an idea for introducing a character, so I stop in my path to sit down and type out the scene. Halfway through, I wonder where in the story it should occur and if another character should or should not be present as well. *Cue mental wandering* Half an hour later, I get thirsty and remember that once upon a time, I made tea. Alas, the tea is cold, but I have a scene. So begins the play.

Strength and Faith

By Kaley Morrison, Master of Honey

It was last Spring when Jeremy Fiebig first presented me with the idea of  doing Saint Joan as part of the Honey series. I was asked if I’d be  interested in possibly playing her.

At the time, and for quite a while, I felt nothing but excitement. I would be playing an icon, a well known symbol, but then it hit me- I didn’t know that much about Joan of Arc as a person, all that I knew of her could be reduced to a few bullet points:
  • French
  • Heard voices
  • Dressed as a soldier and went to battle
  • Burned at the stake.
These alone did not make up a real person I could relate to. I had many questions, so I started some research. I watched some documentaries, did some reading, and of course read the text of Shaw’s play. To say there were surprises would be an understatement. I had never known the details about why Joan dressed as a soldier and entered battle. I had assumed that while dressed as a soldier she had assumed a male identity, which turned out not to be the case. She dressed in men’s clothing but never hid the fact that she was a young woman. She went into battle along with men, though historians disagree as to whether or not she directly engaged in combat. Pretty interesting things to happen to a teenage girl in that time. Obviously, she must have been a strong person to have been willing to do all of that–but what did that strength look like? Where did it come from?
One thing historians agree upon about Joan is her unwavering faith and love of God. She believed she could accomplish anything because God was on her side. Her faith in his protection gave her the confidence to be bold, but there were times when she didn’t need to yell or fight. Her faith was so strong that it spoke for itself. She didn’t need to argue: she lived her truth. She was brave enough to show her feelings, be they fear, hurt, or joy in the love of God. Finding these different types of strength within the script has been a real joy and a real challenge. I have tried to approach every rehearsal with an open mind and open heart–trying to find how Joan is feeling in each moment. Sure, she is strong, but is she laughing off her enemies? Is she digging her heels in and not giving up? Or is she trying share her love of God with those around her? How does one lead to another? What causes those changes? So many things to explore! As we move from the rehearsal process to performance, I hope to continue to find her strength, in new places and new ways, and I hope you will join us for Saint Joan. 

Saint Joan’s Heroic Love

By Jen Pommerenke, Wright

Growing up, I spent a lot of time playing make-believe: hours outside playing with the guys. I was the consummate tomboy. I wanted to play soldier, be the hero, save the day from bad guys: it’s not shocking I wanted to be Joan. Not St. Joan. SAINT Joan seemed like a superhero, not a human hero. And despite my make believe, the foundation had to be a hero that was attainable. I wanted to play Joan. The simple farm girl, with extraordinary courage and kindness, who led charges, rode horses, and relentlessly chased freedom for those she loved.

That’s always been my Joan. She was not this extraordinary human who was endowed with unattainable goodness in order to become a Saint. She was a simple farm girl, who, to me, just always made the decision that afforded her the greatest opportunity to love. Whether it was removing the English from her beloved France or speaking with great affection to those who shouted, stormed, and humiliated her to her eventual death, she always chose love.

But she wasn’t perfect. The story of Joan illuminates the deep humanity in these powerhouses of goodness. Shaw’s Joan is filled with stubbornness, pride, impatience, and oftentimes she shames the people around her–she is not what most people believe a Saint should be daily. Joan reminds us that we all can strive for Sainthood. Or, to put it more simply, we can all strive to be the best versions of ourselves. In every moment we can dare to choose to be courageously kind, compassionate, humble, and positive. And when we are the worst versions of ourselves, we can look to Joan and remember to dare and dare again. One failure, or several, does not a Saint in us undo.

Unique in our production is the opportunity to play several characters who all have wildly differing opinions, feelings, and strategies regarding the powerhouse that is Joan the Maid: several opportunities to be threatened or inspired by her love for the common folk (and their love for her), several chances to form an opinion on how to dispose or elevate her to reach a means, and a kaleidoscope of feelings as to the heart (s) she moves within. And you learn. Gracious, do you learn. I, who have always devoutly asked St. Joan to intercede anytime I feel I am going into a battle too big for me, who have always revered the Maid’s courage and ability to exquisitely communicate feelings and philosophies devoid of any education. I now play not one, but three characters who condemn her, one who abandons her, and one who feels powerless to save her. One learns to empathize with everyone, because everyone has a story bigger than you see. Everyone is fighting for something. And we all must dare and dare and dare again, to understand each other a little better, love each other a little deeper, and fight the battles that feel too big. The tomboy within still seeks to ride on horseback like Joan and save the day, but that delightful image has expanded…and sees that is doesn’t have to end there. There’s a greater adventure to be had. It’s rooted in love, and the new hero can and must be SAINT Joan.

Playing God

By Ruth Nelson, Master of Dramaturgy

God the Father. The omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient divine creator of all things. It’s a fairly daunting concept to grasp, even theoretically; how, then, does one go about turning that concept into a character to be presented believably onstage? This is the task set to me by Jessica Osnoe, the adapter and director of Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s Paradise Lost, and I am grateful for the challenge—not because I have some sort of fetish for difficult challenges, but because this is the Story of stories, and it is an honor and privilege to share in this inimitable telling of it.

When most people think of “God,” I imagine some form of these two thoughts spring instantly to mind: “Man, he’s mighty” and “Man, he’s mad.” Wrath and power; terrible and everlasting judgment; impossible standards of perfection; these are the lenses through which most of us see the divine. It would be easy to play to these stereotypes, particularly in the context of Paradise Lost. The story begins with the fall of Satan and his angels from heaven and ends with Adam and Eve being driven out of Eden because of their sin; could God have any more reason to be profoundly peeved? However, I knew immediately that this was not the route I wanted to take. It is not the best route, nor is it true.

We have a saying at Sweet Tea Shakespeare: “Love is the strongest choice.” Looking at this story through the lens of love, we see that Adam and Eve—though they lose Eden—are not the ones who lose the most. Satan loses heaven, but he is not the one with most cause to mourn. This is a story about a father’s –THE Father’s—loss. He grieves over Satan and the demons as they fall willfully from heaven. He mourns over Adam and Eve as they freely choose the offered temptation over his present and promised provision. He laments over his beautiful creation, which falls under a curse because of mankind’s transgression. Every time we see God the Father, he is in mourning. There is anger, yes—but it is the anger that flows from a broken heart. There is power, certainly—but it is evidenced primarily in the increased capacity of such a heart to love, create, suffer, forgive, and continue loving.

This love and the pain that necessarily accompanies it have guided me as an actor through this unique process. And it is the victory of this love that allows the show to close with a spark of hope, lighting the way from paradise into the waiting everyday world.

I hope to see you there.

Directing Saint Joan

By Guest Artist Jessica Schiermeister

My name is Jessica Schiermeister. I am a dramaturg, director, actor, and scholar currently living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I hold two master’s degrees in Shakespeare and Performance from Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia. I have studied mainly Shakespeare for the last ten years. He is sort of my life, aside from my actual husband and living people with whom I interact.

This is my first experience with Sweet Tea Shakespeare. I am familiar with their work but, not being a resident of North Carolina, I have not yet seen any of their performances. I have known Artistic Director Jeremy Fiebig for just shy of ten years, and we both attended the same graduate program, so I have always had a strong idea of how STS operates. But I am so excited to be here and get to know the company and its members personally. Everyone is lovely! STS is an excellent local company.

When I found out that STS was producing George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan for their Honey Series, I knew I had to apply to direct. As a high school Speech participant, my coach compiled most of Joan’s lines into a massive single acting piece for my senior year. I did not advance far within the state Speech world, but that acting piece has stuck with me ever since.

I have also admired the Honey Series from afar ever since I heard of its inception in 2014. As a woman within the Shakespeare world, there is not always a place for me. The majority of roles in Shakespeare’s plays, and in his contemporaries’ plays as well, are for men. This is not to say that woman cannot play men’s roles, but it is to say that sometimes you do not want to. Sometimes you want to focus on the stories and lives of women, whether or not they’re associated with Shakespeare.

Saint Joan is strange in that it is largely about the way men around Joan interact with and react to her. It is technically her story, but told mostly from the point of view of men. She is one of two women in the script (the other has only a couple of lines and has been cut for the purposes of our production). By casting only women in this production, I hope to highlight the gender disparity while also reminding audiences that women kick ass. Joan was burned at the stake at the hands of men, but her legacy lives on long past any of her supporters or persecutors.

I am honored to be part of not only Sweet Tea Shakespeare but the Honey Series. Saint Joan is a small-scale production with a cast of only four actors total, all women, playing 24 characters. I am honored to have the opportunity of directing these four fine women in this production. I appreciate all of the hard work that Kaley Morrison, Jennifer Pommerenke, Hannah Duncan, and Jessica Perry are putting into this show.

While I am in Fayetteville, I hope you will not only see our production (in conjunction with John Milton’s Paradise Lost, adapted and directed by Jessica Osnoe), running the first weekend in March, but attend my lecture on gender on the early modern English stage and my workshop on rhetoric. More information on the shows, lecture, and workshop can be found on STS’s website or Facebook page.

Sweet Tea Shakespeare Auditions

Sweet Tea Shakespeare will host auditions for its productions of Julius Caesar, Antigone, and The Winter’s Tale on July 17 from 4-6pm with callbacks on July 18 from 4-6pm.

Julius Caesar will rehearse beginning August 19 and run from September 22-28, including at least one daytime performance for schools. This will be an outdoor performance. Antigone, part of our new Honey series for women, will rehearse in late September through October and will run November 5-9. We anticipate this being an indoor performance. The Winter’s Tale will rehearse through the fall, with performances running weekends in January (9-25). This will be an indoor performance. Auditioners may be cast for Julius Caesar; these are screening auditions for Antigone and The Winter’s Tale — additional audition dates for those shows will be added in the fall. Musicians of any sort are particularly encouraged to audition. STS employs cross-gender casting of roles. Auditions are cold readings from sides, which will be available on site at auditions. Rehearsals will begin with intensive text work. Actors are typically required to arrive at the first rehearsal memorized and having completed some text homework (with instruction provided). Shows will be double cast, with total casts being not more than 12-15 people. Actors will customarily play more than one part.

As part of the STS experience, actors are typically expected to take part in one or more of the following activities: -musical entertainment prior to the show, during the show, and/or at intermission -other entertainments, such as juggling, dancing, etc. -audience interaction, including selling merchandise, handing out programs, etc. before the show and at intermission -assisting with set up and strike of costumes, props, scenery, lighting, and sound equipment for each performance as part of a team -assisting with social media marketing STS pays a stipend of not less than $50 and not more than $400 per role, with the bulk of stipends being in the $50 to $100 range.

Auditions are by appointment only. To make an appointment, email [email protected] with your resume and headshot. If you have neither, please email a summary of your experience and a photo.