For me, there are few things more rewarding than losing myself in the lively action and joyous laughter of a well-staged, well-crafted play. When done right, an enjoyable play can make the troubles and anxieties of the everyday just melt away. Right now, Indiana University Summer Theater gives not one but two opportunities to forget our cares and throw ourselves into another world with Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Jane Austen’s Persuasion (adapted for the stage by Jennifer LeBlanc).
During the month of July, Indiana University Summer Theater presents two shows in the repertory style. Typically during the school year, productions are staged one at a time allowing the actors, directors, and assistants to focus on one individual production before moving on to another. Each production typically features a unique cast, crew, staging, and scenery. Repertory theater, on the other hand, is a form of theater where the cast and crew keep a stock or repertoire of shows prepped and always ready for performance.
For IU’s summer theater, this means that one group of actors prepares two different shows, and they alternate performing one then the other for three weeks. The audience may only be vaguely aware that something is a little different. They have the opportunity to see a wider variety of plays in a shorter amount of time. Sometimes they can see two different plays in one day. Audiences may also notice familiar faces as the actors from yesterday’s Love’s Labour’s Lost perform in today’s Persuasion.
With the demands of these two shows, IU sets a big challenge for its cast and crew, which they not only met but exceeded. The productions are funny and well-acted. The staging for each was beautiful and ornate, but easy enough to manipulate so that scene changes did not interrupt the flow of the comedy. The costuming was rich and impressive, accurately depicting the time periods in which each was set. I could go on and on.
Considering the high level of excellence in the shows, the audience may not realize that repertory style brings with it some interesting challenges for cast and crew. I chatted with Tara Chiusano, IU Summer Theater Actor who plays Moth in Love’s Labour’s Lost and Mary in Persuasion, to get some firsthand feedback about the challenges and rewards of performing two highly comedic roles in repertoire.
According to Chiusano, the biggest challenge of the summer repertoire style is rehearsals. “It’s a long day,” because they have to rehearse both shows everyday. “Once we start performing,” she says,” there is a wave of relief because we only have to worry about performing.” The physical demands of the long rehearsal days transfer over into the mental challenge of creating a clear, distinct performance of the different characters. Chiusano explains, “You just have to keep it straight” and “compartmentalize [each character’s] individual experiences” by “really jumping into those characters and those onstage relationships.”
While repertory may be more exhausting at the beginning, Chiusano finds the variation to be energizing and inspiring. Shakespeare and Austen’s writing styles are so different both provide a unique challenge to her and her fellow actors. “Austen is a little bit closer to the slice of life reality….Shakespeare’s circumstances are a bit wilder. Crazy things are happening all the time.” Chiusano’s acting style is challenged even more so by the fact that “Shakespeare’s [characters are] in the language rather than in the pauses. Austen it is in the silence that we see the characters growing and changing.”
I have seen Chiusano in many productions over the past few years: Isabelle in My Children! My Africa!, Trinculo in The Tempest, and Mary in Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play just to name a few. I’ve always been impressed by the energy and commitment Chiusano throws into every character, especially her comedic roles in this summer’s productions. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, she plays Moth, one of Shakespeare’s precocious youths who is energetic and a master of witty wordplay. While Love’s Labour’s Lost is a riotous, witty, pun-filled affair, Austen’s Persuasion is a bit more dramatic. Yet still the comedy provided by the characters and Austen’s social critique makes this a very lively drama. Chiusano’s role of Mary, an over-the-top hypochondriac who always wants to be the center of attention, provides comedy and social critique in that uniquely Austenian way.
Being purposefully funny is not easy work, so how she makes it look almost effortless in both roles? “I’m one of those people that naturally has a lot of energy,” explained Chiusano, “Some may call it a comic energy. It’s important to refine that energy because if it’s not focused or specific, it’s hard to follow and can look like a lot of manic craziness.” Her favorite way to focus that energy is through, what she calls, animal acting. Learned during a movement class with IU’s Leraldo Anzaldua, Chiusano describes animal acting as seeing resemblances between the character and a particular animal to heighten the sense of comedy, drama, and physicality.
For example, Chiusano plays Mary as a house cat: “I’m sitting in the chair. I’m feeling sickly and down. I’m almost purring with my voice and lazily rubbing up on the chair. Then when Anne comes by and puts a blanket on, I cling to that like a cat clings to sheets and bedding, and it just helps me to enliven it a little bit.” It would be easy to misinterpret the funny aspects of Mary’s hypochondria as a dramatic illness, but the over-the-top cat-like mannerisms allow Chiusano to “to operate in real terms, in the reality of the situation but have a heightened quality to what you are doing so that [the audience] knows it’s not dramatic.”
Acting these two pieces side by side has allow Chiusano and her follow actors to really challenge themselves, and the audience reaps great benefits from all their effort. Both productions are a joy to behold, and you still have this week to check them out. Find out more information and purchase tickets here.
*Thank you to the IU Department of Theater for the use of their images.