Saratoga Shakespeare’s productions depend on cuts, collaboration

Saratoga Shakespeare’s productions depend on cuts, collaboration

SARATOGA SPRINGS —  This past Sunday at Skidmore College’s JKB Theater, down the hall from where cast members were rehearsing As You Like It, which kicks off the Saratoga Shakespeare Company’s 18th season this month, artistic director Lary Opitz was holed up in a small room, “feverishly trying to prepare myself to sound halfway intelligent when I have to speak” about the play at the public library in a few days’ time.

The event, billed as an intro and discussion of the play, will attract “a fair number of senior citizens” who expect “something reasonably scholarly,” Opitz said. Last year, a power outage absolved him of having to discuss A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but no divine intervention prevented his lecture on The Winter’s Tale, which focused on sex (“there’s a lot of it” in the play, he said).

Opitz later learned that he “came off as too much of an actor and less of a professor” at the event (for the record, he’s both)—and that it might’ve been too raunchy. He’s toning it down this year.

“I’m trying to put together notes,” he said. “And then, of course, when I get there I’ll have a pile of notes, which I’ll ignore.”

The company’s two mainstage productions this season, notwithstanding pretty short rehearsal periods, likely won’t feature that sort of ad-libbing. But both directors—Liz Carlson-Guerin (As You Like It, July 17-28) and David Girard (Henry IV, July 31-Aug. 4)—seem comfortable making substantial cuts to allow the performances, which start at 6 PM in Congress Park, to end by twilight.

Girard’s Henry IV’s is an amalgam of parts one and two. To help pare down what would otherwise be something like a seven-hour play, he has removed several characters and fashioned mashup scenes that mix elements from both parts. He thinks he’s now got “a 100 to 105 minute cut.”

“I did not cut as aggressively as David, I presume,” Carlson-Guerin, who has winnowed a three-hour play down to two hours, said during a short break from rehearsal.

“There’s no company today—at all, anywhere—that doesn’t edit the work and cut it somewhat,” Opitz told The Alt. The company is “contemplating” a future production of King Lear, the professor said, and if that happens, it might remove “two of the most memorable” characters, who figure in a parallel, superfluous plot.

“We’re comfortable with that,” Opitz said, adding that some of the most important Shakespearean practitioners have made those kinds of choices. (We suggested he preemptively raise that defense at the next library speech.)

Rehearsals for Henry IV don’t really start until the morning after the first performance of As You Like It. Girard, who is also the company’s associate artistic director, says the short prep time means the directors “tend to have multiple rooms going at once” and empower other artists working on the production.

“It has to be extraordinarily collaborative because there isn’t time for it not to be,” said Carlson-Guerin, who specifically mentioned musical contributions from Raya Malcolm and Andria Rabenold, as well as “amazing movement stuff” from choreographer and fight director K. O’Rourke. “The work ends up being this unbelievable exercise in trusting one another.”

Carlson-Guerin attributed her decision to return for this season—last year she directed The Winter’s Tale (and cut a “great character” who “doesn’t necessarily drive the action of the play,” she told us)—to this sort of compulsory cooperation.

“And then you’re in the middle of it and you’re exhausted and you’re like, ‘Why am I here?’” she said with a laugh. “But at the end you’re like, ‘Oh, God, that was a really fun collaboration.’”

“You kind of meet people that you want to work with forever,” she added.


The Saratoga Shakespeare Company’s 18th Season

AS YOU LIKE IT, directed by Elizabeth Carlson-Guerin
July 17 – July 28, Tuesday – Saturday, 6 P.M.
Alfred Z. Solomon Stage, Congress Park

HENRY IV, directed by David Girard
July 31 – August 4, Tuesday – Saturday, 6 P.M.
Alfred Z. Solomon Stage, Congress Park

July 20 at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, 108 Avenue of the Pines
12:30 P.M. – Shall I Compare Thee to a Midsummer’s Dream, presented by SaratogaArtsFest
2 P.M. – Romeo and Juliet, a one-hour musical adaptation presented by Saratoga Shakespeare Co. and SPAC in association with SaratogaArtsFest

SHAKESPEARE FOR ALL!, created by the Young Theatre Professional Company
Aug. 1, 10 A.M. at Corbett Amphitheatre, Skidmore College
Aug. 4 at 1 P.M. at Alfred Z. Solomon Stage, Congress Park

Library intros and discussions (with artistic director Lary Opitz)
July 11, 6 P.M.
Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St.

July 23, 7 P.M.
Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St.

PHOTO: Andria Rabenold (left) and Raya Malcolm (right) play a song outside JKB Theater at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs.

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