Sweet Tea Artistic Director Jeremy Fiebig, Assistant Artistic Director, Claire F. Martin, and Company Member Jessie Wise chat about the ingredients that make a great play. What’s the recipe for a smash-hit?
Welcome to The Sweet Tea Shakespeare Hours, where we spend time well by spending it together. So, think of the Hours as a way to pass the time around a common table of ideas. We’re a community seeking to delight in story, song, and stagecraft even as we confront a world of change and challenge.
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By Hannah Marks
“We’re going to audition for a drunk Shakespeare show. Do you want to come?”
That was my first introduction to Sweet Tea Shakespeare. After moving in to our new apartment in Raleigh, my roommates said that they were making the drive out to Fayetteville to audition for a company that was doing a “lit” version of Romeo and Juliet.
“Sounds like fun,” I said, and went right back to drinking my well-deserved margarita. A few days later, when they told me that they were cast as the titular characters, I don’t think any of us knew just how much this “drunk Shakespeare thing” would change us–as performers, and as people.
Romeo and JuliLit was the first thing I’d ever seen from STS. I was blown away by the way the modern music and jokes fit in with Shakespeare’s text. Everyone knew what they were saying and why they were saying. They sounded like….real people, not actors standing on stage holding a skull lamenting about poor Yorick. Now, I’m a musical theatre girl. I grew up singing and being in chorus classes, but I never started doing theatre seriously until my junior year of high school. My junior year of college, I was in a production of Twelfth Night. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and I thought I was the worst person in the show. In fact, I almost didn’t audition for it because I always thought that Shakespeare was for the most elite actors, and I just didn’t fit into that part. But at STS, they showed me that Shakespeare can be fun and real. I was obsessed.
The moment that I clearly remember needing to be a part of a Sweet Tea show was in July of 2017. My roommate Tyler was the male lead in Cymbeline, and so our other roommate Mary Lynn and I drove up to see one Shakespeare’s lesser-known shows (at least to us). Mary Lynn and Tyler have been in several STS shows, and they’re fan favorites–not that I’m biased or anything. So we arrived at the Poe House and I was immediately breathless. This backyard was transformed into a wonderland. Fairy lights illuminated all different kinds and colors of fabrics, preshow was just starting, and the sweet tea was flowing. People were sitting on blankets or in lawn chairs, and the Fayetteville Animal Protection Society was there with animals you could adopt . Tyler ended up adopting a little chihuahua named Queso, who made his stage debut that night. It was the perfect scene. Even after we had to move inside due to a thunderstorm, I was still in awe. Cymbeline was one of the most beautiful shows I had ever seen, and it still remains my favorite STS show. I had been hounded to audition by several people, but the timing never worked out. When the opportunity to be in Pericles came, I grabbed it. This has been unlike any other experience I’ve had. We joke around in rehearsals, we make up things when we don’t know what to do, and we are over the top, as most theatre people are. But when you strip away the sets, and the music, and the costumes, only two things remain: you have to find the honesty in the moments. You have to find the love. Throughout Pericles, and my entire interaction with STS, I’ve been welcomed into this circle of artists and fallen in love again, with these people, with Shakespeare, with theatre. And that’s been the greatest gift I could ask for.
Fall in love with Pericles and The Tempest! Tickets available at https://sweetteashakespeare.com/tickets.
Photo Credit: Thistle & Sun Photography
By Tyler Graeper, Haberdashery Wright
Every actor has something that they know they are good at and something at which they know they are bad. For example: I know that I can yell, and usually yell pretty convincingly. I can turn anger and other evil feelings on at the drop of a hat. My struggle? I know that I can yell, and sometimes do it convincingly. The thing I consider my greatest strength also happens to be what I consider my greatest weakness, and here’s the thing with Posthumus: he is like an emotional grenade. He explodes at the drop of a hat with very little reason, ration, or thought behind it. Being convinced that his wife is unfaithful takes exactly one scene, and from that scene he launches into a tirade against all women.
Here’s the trap: it is easy to yell, but hard to yell with intention. This is not just a rage; he is not only angry and sad and in pain. He’s also in love. When someone breaks your heart you don’t stop loving them in that moment—maybe you never stop loving them. Every moment of every sentence of every scene has a layer of emotion and intention, and then there’s another layer, and then another. You keep delving into that rabbit hole until you have reached the ultimate intention or emotion. For Posthumus, that’s love. That is where I struggle: finding that beautiful, joyful, indescribable emotion in the midst of all this pain and anguish. I fight to find that every time I perform this monologue. Without it, this monologue has no teeth—there’s no reason for the audience to care about a guy who is simply angry and yelling about a woman who (spoilers) didn’t actually cheat on him. Here at Sweet Tea Shakes there’s a saying that gets passed on a lot, and which I’ve heard increasingly in this production, that “love is the strongest choice,” and I can find no better way to describe my struggle, and Posthumus’s, in Cymbeline.
by Laura J. Parker, Guiderius in Cymbeline
My first acting gig was in high school, in the heady days of the early 1990’s when city government officials thought it was perfectly reasonable to allow high school students complete access to the local cable access TV station and all of it’s equipment. A small group of Breakfast-Club-esque social misfits, we created a sketch comedy show that revolved around a ‘Knight Rider’ parody series. I played the nasal, heavily-Boston-accented girlfriend of the series’ hero—and later got locked in a studio and was “forced” to watch our own show in a MST3K-style parody. The show was ridiculous and full of in-jokes and silly flubs, and we loved every minute of it. We had the chance to create and to play, and it was glorious.
Fast forward to 2009: I was terrified of a public speaking assignment for graduate school, so I enrolled in an improv class to knock the rust off of my public speaking skills. That class jump-started my love of performing, and I soon found myself performing improv on a regular basis. A few years later I auditioned for a play and started doing scripted work.
What delights me about theatre is that, at its core, it’s all about telling stories. We share so many thoughts and feelings and experiences as human beings, and a good play will help the audience look at those experiences with new eyes. Working with a dedicated group of storytellers to share these experiences with the public is a beautiful, joyous, humbling experience—we all bring our own worldviews into the rehearsal process and end up creating something that’s bigger and bolder than we thought it could be. And that’s pretty amazing.
Playing Guiderius in Cymbeline has truly been a rewarding experience. Although I’ve done Shakespeare in the past, this has been my first Sweet Tea show, and it was so beautifully positive. The STS family is warm, open, accepting, and encouraging—and above and beyond that, their approach to Shakespeare is truly FUN. Even though these texts are 400 years old, the fundamental emotional stories still resonate, and STS works hard to bring out the emotional core for the audience. In between all the hard work, STS isn’t afraid to PLAY—to find the joy and the wit and the humor that is within the words. It’s been a joy exploring this little-produced play and finding the fun! STS gifts its actors with the freedom to create, to explore, and to dream, and I’m so grateful to have been able to share in that experience with this remarkable group of people. Much 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!
by Reagan Carstens, Environment Wright
Journey: there is no word better to describe the last three years I have spent with Sweet Tea Shakespeare. My journey with Sweet Tea began at the “ripe old age” of 14. For years, I had done theatre, but little did I know I was in for a vastly different experience when I was cast in The Winter’s Tale as Perdita, a strong (and flirty) young woman who makes her own journey for true love. The Winter’s Tale, and this new kind of theatre, opened up a world of strange, up-close wonder that includes personal and beautiful interactions between actor and audience. In every work I have been a part of, there has been a vital lesson to be learned that has shaped me as an artist and as a human. Over the years, Sweet Tea Shakespeare has taught me the importance of allowing the audience into the story, the sanctity of actor-to-actor-to-audience relationships, and magic. Even more, I have made personal discoveries of the kind of actor and person I want to be: the kind that radiates love, and not the kind who steals it from spectators. In the next few weeks, I will begin another journey in my life at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. I go with the love that Sweet Tea has shared with me, the things I have learned, the intention to keep growing, and the knowledge that I will always have a family in them.