Free-for-all of Elizabethan proportions
ThreatreWorks brings free Shakespeare to region’s underserved
By Lily Reavis
The Southeast Express
For the first time in its history, TheatreWorks is bringing Free-for-All Shakespeare to the Pikes Peak region this summer. Now through Aug. 16, Free-for-All, a no-cost traveling troupe, will be performing at multiple locations throughout the area.
On July 10, the seven-person troupe traveled from Rockrimmon Boulevard to Fort Carson and eventually to Hillside Community Center to perform “The Comedy of Errors” three separate times throughout the day.
The 75-minute adaptation is family-friendly and fast-paced, with a small cast that portrays many characters thanks to costume changes, accents and the occasional hand puppet stand-in.
“To me, theaters are a civic institution,” said TheatreWorks artistic director Caitlin Lowans. “We exist to be in service to our community.”
Although the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (to which TheatreWorks is connected) has put on free Shakespearean plays in “the very, very ancient history of TheatreWorks,” according to Lowans, this summer’s traveling program is the first of its kind.
“We already have a natural geographic connection to the folks downtown,” Lowans said. “It was really important that we … connect [with] those who live in the vibrant community of Southeast.”
Although the performances are free to attend, the cast and crew are composed of local professional actors and designers.
Sean Sharif, Alex Wimmerle, Anna Faye Hunter, Rachel Fey, Ambrosia Fees-Armstrong, Julia Greene and Dante Finley make up the cast. Under Lowans’ artistic direction, the actors have each memorized several “tracks,” which include multiple characters. Each performance, the actors switch tracks, trading characters, costumes and stage voices in the process. The actors even smoothly transition from accent-free dialogue to heavy East Coast diction, depending on the character.
“Theaters are a civic institution. We exist to be in service to our community.” TheatreWorks artistic director Caitlin Lowans
Maelia Kalua is the program’s costume designer. Considering the fast pace of the performances, the costumes have to be durable, easy to change and different enough for the audience to recognize when actors trade characters.
Props designer Marie Verdu had to consider the importance of mobility and utility of space throughout the Free-for-All program. Before performances, the cast sets its stage by laying a plain sheet flat on the ground. Then, it sets chairs around the perimeter, creating a theater in the round, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
The entire set and all the costumes fit into seven small trunks — and even those act as props. During the Fort Carson production, Fey — in character as Dromio of Ephesus — held up a 2-foot-tall painted trunk and loudly announced, “this is a door,” during a brief set change. The whimsical scenery was met with laughter from the audience.
The program is funded by several local sponsors, including the Pikes Peak Library District and the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative.
This is a first-time program that aims to reach out to traditionally-overlooked communities, and Lowans stressed her desire for people to “come as they are” to the performances.
“Sometimes theatre can feel to folks like there is a certain way they have to be,” she said. “But we’re really excited to meet everyone where they’re at … and celebrate them coming out to share something very special with us.”