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Feeling the Love

By Justin Heath, Arviragus in Cymbeline

So, last summer (summer of ‘16, as movie cliches would have it), a friend and I went to see STS’s production of The Merchant of Venice. It was a pretty awesome experience! The welcome-ness and open attitude to just sit back, relax, drink if you want (though not for me, because I am underage) was really satisfying! They told us we could sit wherever we liked, and we sat on a quilt for some time during preshow. Then they introduced a lovely thing called Chair Paravel, which was a lavish-looking seat with a bunch of goodies and stuff. They auctioned it, and luckily we got it for $30! The entire time we were living it up! We were watching the show, which was right in front of us, and we also were enjoying our super awesome snacks and stuff from the chair auction. Long story short, the experience was amazing, though I didn’t really know anything about Shakespeare yet. The people were open and nice with the audience, encouraged interaction, and encouraged movement, because STS wanted it to be like a living room experience. Later the following year, the director of my school’s troupe told me that STS was holding auditions and that it would be good if I auditioned and gained some experience outside of high school. I thought, “How hard could it be?” It turns out that was a horrible mindset to have.

The audition date was March 9th, and I remember it because I got there and thought, “I really hope they don’t realize I know nothing about Shakespeare.” They did. But I still managed to get into the production I wanted: Cymbeline! I play a lost prince turned cave-dweller. Well, anyway, the audition went a little something like this: I was confident, memorized in a few minutes, and then immediately forgot, froze up for a second, and then performed what I thought was on the paper–and that is not at all how Shakespeare works. When the day of the read-through came we had a gigantic potluck. Everyone was talking and being super friendly and nice, and it was one of the best completely foreign experiences I could’ve asked for. Everyone was laughing and having fun, and the rehearsal process wasn’t bad either!

I look back to when I first started, and I have learned a lot from STS. They have taught me so much in the past few weeks. I’ve put in a lot of work, and the most satisfying thing is seeing the audience’s reactions to the scenes. At one point we bring in a severed head (not actual for legal reasons of course), and everyone flips out! It’s great! And then when they see my reaction to it they laugh! On the opening night, my girlfriend and parents came to see it, and when I talked to them afterward they spoke about how amazingly talented everyone is, how well they sing, and how the whole experience was like sitting and watching a movie with your family. This has been an experience I have always wanted to capture for people. To be able to do this with such amazing people has been awesome. Even when I make mistakes, they still laugh and have fun. Even on the most stressful nights we have, I still feel love from the people and the audience, and that’s something I am definitely taking with me from STS.

Thanks for such a crazy awesome opportunity!

Jen Czechowski

Master of Market at Sweet Tea Shakespeare