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How to Get Lit in Six Easy Steps

By Marie Lowe, Associate Artistic Director, Master of Audience and Lit, and director of As You Like LIT

As the newest production in our LIT Series, As You Like LIT, approaches, several people have asked how we develop these shows. Here’s a quick how-to guide:

  1. Cast it well
    2. Cast it well
    3. Cast it well
    4. Cast it well
    5. … did I mention it’s all about the cast? What follows below is an overview of the process, but if you’re short on time, remember these three words: CAST. IT. WELL.
    Here at Sweet Tea, our policy is to “light up” a play we’ve performed recently. That way, both the audience and actors will have some reference points. Having done As You Like It last January, it’s relatively fresh in our minds, and hopefully yours, too. Cutting the text down to the essential plot points is a major challenge, as it usually eliminates minor characters and subplots; for example, in HamLIT, we cut out Fortinbras, the crown prince of Norway who assumes the throne at the end of the play, entirely. In Romeo & JuliLIT, we had to lose Romeo’s father. Monologues, even famous ones, are cut down, eliminated entirely, or subjected to shenanigans.
    Once the text has been cut, we find ways to involve the audience in trivia, improvisation, races, and drinking games. We often divide the audience into teams and encourage them to compete against each other. Most of these games will change with each show. In HamLIT, the audience played Charades and a “whodunit” style improv game with the Players. In Romeo & JuliLIT, they played Montagues vs. Capulets Family Feud and raced to revive the Nurse when she collapsed in grief at Juliet’s apparent death. For As You Like LIT, new games will be played in the Forest of Arden. We also have one game that we play in every LIT show, Monologue Mad Libs, in which the audience gets to tart up a famous monologue for one of our actors to deliver.
    Jacob French is the leader, music director, and heart and soul of our band, the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers (WoCo). He does new acoustic arrangements of every song we use for the season. For a LIT show, we like to use songs that are relevant to the characters and relationships in the play, but we also want to use songs that the audience will know so they can sing along. So, for HamLIT we sang “You Give Love a Bad Name,” by Bon Jovi; for Romeo & JuliLIT we used “Poison” by Bell Biv Devoe. The music is such an important part of the LIT experience that we require every cast member to sing and/or play with the band.
    Casting is the single most important part of the LIT process. Not only do these actors have to be able to handle Shakespeare’s language and sing or play with the band, but they have to engage in stage combat and do outrageous choreography, all while playing multiple characters AND making sure that the audience is understanding and enjoying the show. It requires expertise in improvisation, charismatic audience interaction, and a willingness to be fearlessly foolish that many performers lack. The cast makes the show, so cast it well.
    At the start of every rehearsal process, I tell the cast two things:
    – I’m not stupid enough to think my idea is always the best one, so
    – the answer is always “yes” during rehearsal if you have something you’d like to try (just don’t surprise your scene partners).
    Many of our best and most memorable ideas have come out of our rehearsal room, from Gabe asking if The Ghost could do a Star Wars “Hamlet, I am your father” bit complete with light saber, to Jake and Lofton asking “What if Claudius was a hand puppet?” to Tohry whispering, “The drinking game in Romeo & JuliLIT should be Family Feud!”Once you have completed these six easy steps, you too can “light up” one of Shakespeare’s plays—once you also deal with venues and insurance and getting the rights to the music and developing safety rules for the cast and crew and hiring security and passing health inspections and marketing and box office and on and on and on—on second thought, it’s probably easier for you to just buy your tickets for Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s As You Like LIT, opening April 21st.  We’ve already done all of those things, and I promise, we cast it VERY well.

Jen Czechowski

Master of Market at Sweet Tea Shakespeare