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Shasta College Takes on Shakespeare

Shakespeare is bringing challenges and excitement to the Shasta College cast and crew, who have been working hard to present Redding residents with the unique opportunity to view the Bard’s, As You Like It.  The play is directed by Dr. Greg Thorson and begins March 10, in the Shasta College Theatre, for a mere eight dollars a seat, except for seniors and students who only pay five dollars.  It’s the second time in the last 40 years that a Shakespearean play has made an appearance on campus, according to Thorson.

I was lucky enough to interview a dozen cast and crew members, backstage, during a recent rehearsal.  The cast, which includes several mature actors with experience in local theaters, is largely college students with theatrical majors and ambitions that run the gamet from opening a bakery to playing the Phantom, in Phantom Of The Opera, on Broadway.

Thorson picked the play because he loves Shakespeare.  He has since he was five and participated in the famous fight scene in MacBeth.  “I think it’s the perfect play for Redding,” he said.  “I see Redding as a place where people find themselves in nature.”  In the play, a look into the halves and have-nots of society, the forest is where those on the bottom of the equation, and those who are forced to flee the tyrannical rule of Duke Federick’s Court, discover love, happiness and acceptance.

For local actress Erin Sullivan, in her second play at Shasta College, the role of Rosalind, who escapes into the forest in the guise of being a boy, the play has been “Really challenging.  I had to completely devote and give myself to this play to tell Rosalind’s story.”  She along with others, have high praise for Elsie Ritche, an actress and former highschool english and drama teacher, who has given her time and talent to helping the cast understand and be comfortable with Shakespeare’s language and the interpretation of their roles.  “Honestly, I don’t think I could do it without Elsie,” Sullivan said.

Marissa Cozens, in her first Shakespearean performance, portrays Rosalind’s cousin.  She said the amount of time and effort required is “amazing.”  The cast rehearses five nights a week, usually four hours a night.  And that’s just the rehearsals.

Marissa was one of three Shasta College students who recently attended the Kennedy Center  American College Theatre Festival,  in Denver, Colorado.  She called it an amazing experience, which included being able to see scenes from As You Like It.

Christian David Crozier, a theatre major at Shasta for “about three years,” also attended the Festival and had high praise for the Shasta College Theatre Arts Program, under Thorson’s leadership.  Thorson obtained funding for the students’ attendance at the Festival by going to the Shasta College Foundation.

Crozier plays Jaques and feels privileged  to perform what Thorson said is the most famous three-minute monologue ever written, in which his character describes life itself.  Crozier, performing his first Shakespear play, said he “absolutely” had trouble with the language at first.

Virtually everyone agreed that the language was difficult at first but could be learned with help and perserverence.  Simon Knopf, in his second year in Theatre Arts at Shasta College, and known to Redding audiences for his work in musical theatre, called the language challenging and scary at first.  However, now, he said, “it’s really fun.  I like it a lot.”

Ragan Ragan, an experienced actor, well known to Riverfront audiences, said:  “This has been an eye-opener regarding the power of language.  The play is built on language. In other plays you can get casual and loose.  It’s made me appreciate Shakespeare.”  Bryan Storm, another local actor, in his first play at the College and his first Shakespearean play, agrees,  “I’m gaining a new appreciation for The Bard.”

Micayla Whitmer, a highschool junior, is in her second Shasta College play.  She plays the court gossip, Le Beau.   “This play is timeless,” she said,  “it has a majestic, wonderful feeling.”

Sara Lysette Ballard, who grew up in Ashland and has 80 performances under her belt, plays, what she calls, “the ditsy blond with the heart of gold.”  “I think we should be doing more Shakespeare.  There’s a reason these plays have lasted so long.  They touch all of us.  They’re very relevant today.”

The play is also fascinating for clothing designer Hillary Fahey, a fulltime Spanish teacher in Mount Shasta, who drives to Shasta College two or three days a week, designing as she drives.  “Shakespeare is so much fun because you can do whatever you want.”