By: Elizabeth Derstine
Shakespeare’s Globe Theater would be too mainstream for Goshen’s Shakespeare company, GoShakes. The theater group has tackled a cabaret at a sushi bar and Romeo and Juliet in a reversed theater setting, – the audience claimed the stage while the actors bounded about in the spectator section. Their third and upcoming production A Sonnet Soundscape will be live at a bookstore, Better World Books, 8:30 Friday and at 3:00 Sunday and at a music store, Ignition Garage, at 8:30 Saturday.
A Sonnet Soundscape is a collision of William Shakespeare’s sonnets and original music by Moral Circus, a local band.
“The production is a union of the arts that many people are reluctant to try,” said Henry Stewart, member of Moral Circus.
Lauren Treiber, Phil Scott and Henry Stewart three Goshen College Seniors formed Moral Circus in the fall of 2011. Phil Weaver- Stoesz, an artistic director for GoShakes and the director of A Sonnet Soundscape, contacted the band this past July with grand but vague ideas of Shakespearean sonnets.
“We pretty much said yes right away,” said Treiber.
“It sounded stellar,” Stewart added.
Carrie Lee Bland Kendall, Creative Director and one of the Co- founders of GoShakes, conceptualized A Sonnet Soundscape and then handed over the direction of the production to Weaver-Stoesz who took charge of the “how manys, which ones and what order.” Weaver-Stoesz spent the next two weeks wading through all of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. Since the show has no script and relies wholly on the sonnets, the order shapes the show.
“It could have been a lovey-dovey Shakespeare cliché or a tragedy, all hell and brimstone,” said Weaver-Stoesz.
“It [the story] is an arc,” said Treiber.
GoShakes pumps a new energy into Shakespeare, an energy that comes from simplicity and a trust in the text. According Weaver-Stoesz the heart of the company is the people and the text – the knowledge that if you strip everything else away the show will still be good because of the quality of the text and the acting, which he sees as the definition of true theater. Weaver-Stoesz attempts to give the viewer as simple and smooth a ride as possible through Shakespeare’s different worlds.
“The text holds very complex ideas,” said Weaver-Stoesz, “Ideas of morals, love, loving being in love, and hating being in love.”
Weaver-Stoesz took the poems and wrote a story around them that encompasses music, movement and people.
“This is no museum trying to preserve Shakespeare,” said Scott.
Moral Circus wrote all but one piece originally for the production. The last song in A Sonnet Soundscape is one the group had written over the summer for their album that debuts later this year.
“We wrote for A Sonnet Soundscape before we knew there was A Sonnet Soundscape. You could say we are prophets,” quipped Stewart.
The show is not a concert next to a poetry reading, but two mediums interacting with each other.
“The sonnets lend story to the music and the music lends atmosphere to the story,” said Weaver-Stoesz.
“It is like watching a soundtrack,” said Treiber.
Moral Circus designed four musical themes around the sonnets and the songs in the production stem from these themes.
“Phil gave us a lot of freedom which is both liberating and terrifying,” said Scott.
“Without Moral Circus,” said Weaver-Stoesz, “It wouldn’t be a soundscape, it would be a sonnet nothing.”
Along with a cast of 14, the location plays a prominent role. While practicing at Better World Books, a cast member turned to Weaver-Stoesz and suggested he say his line from the stairs. Weaver-Stoesz responded with an emphatic “Go for it.” The synergy with the space makes for separate and unique shows at Ignition Garage and Better World Books.
“When people practice in one space the performance becomes dry,” said Weaver- Stoesz. “Since we don’t have roots to any space the performers engage the space in new and frightening ways.”