Almost two years after the Virginia Shakespeare Festival suspended operations, one woman is trying to keep the bard alive in Williamsburg by planning a new kind of performance.
“It’s been really challenging and some days I think I’m crazy for doing this, but I’m not giving up,” said Dorothy Raskin, a former member of the Virginia Shakespeare Festival guild.
Raskin is the creator of “Shakespeare Alive,” a start-up performance series for Williamsburg designed after Shakespeare in the Park, which puts on free Shakespeare plays in New York City.
After 38 seasons, the Virginia Shakespeare Festival closed in 2016 after a 23 percent drop in attendance, according to an Oct. 12, 2016 release from William & Mary’s Department of Theatre, Speech & Dance, which ran the festival.
Raskin worked with the festival as a musician and guild member for a number of years. She was disheartened to find that her love of Shakespeare would no longer have an outlet.
“They said to us, ‘Nobody in Williamsburg likes Shakespeare,’” Raskin said. “But that’s simply not true.”
After having worked on a variety of Shakespeare productions, as well as directing musicals for students in Fairfax County for 31 years, Raskin is no stranger to low-budget productions. But putting together something as big as this from scratch, and making her vision come to life, is a bigger task than she could’ve imagined.
Growing up with Shakespeare
The first step was finding a director. Julie King, a director with the Williamsburg Players, happily volunteered. King has been directing plays for 40 years and fell in love with Shakespeare during college, after seeing her brother in a performance of “Macbeth.”
“I live for theater,” King said. “And what’s wonderful about bringing Shakespeare alive on the stage is that it’s poetry and it touches everybody.”
To both King and Raskin, Shakespeare’s work unveils a universal humanity and brings people together in a number of ways, such as gathering in a park to enjoy a play.
Raskin’s devotion to the famous playwright began when she was young, after her grandmother gave her a set of records with Shakespeare plays on them.
“I remember just sitting there for hours and being captivated,” Raskin said. “That’s when I knew that Shakespeare was powerful.”
Building a budget
The records used professional actors and came with a set of scripts, the same scripts Raskin wants to use in her production. Using non-copyrighted scripts is just one of the ways Raskin’s conserving money.
She also plans to use volunteer actors, set designers and costume designers. She’s taking submissions for these positions, but auditions for specific roles won’t begin until the end of April.
Another challenge for Raskin was figuring out how to make the production enjoyable to a wide audience. Instead of putting on an entire hours-length play, she plans to perform scenes from Act V of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In addition, Raskin and King agree that making the language accessible will be a large part of the production’s success.
“When the play says, ‘Hark, where art thou?’ we want people to understand ‘Dude, what’re you doing?’” Raskin said.
Shakespeare Alive has expressed interest in performing at Williamsburg’s Second Sundays festivals from June to October, but no date has been set, according to Steve Rose, founder and president of CultureFix.
“I want to give a fun, family gift to the community,” Raskin said. “And that’s harder than you’d think. But I know there is still a place for Shakespeare in Williamsburg.”