The Actors’ Shakespeare Project of Boston was founded in 2005 with a mission to “bring Shakespeare’s words into the voices, bodies, and imaginations of our actors, audiences and neighborhoods.” The company hosts productions in non-traditional, intimate settings such as art galleries, churches, and warehouses.
Thursday and Friday night, Vineyard audiences will have a chance to enjoy the company’s audience-engaging experience, which has earned them Best of Boston awards from both the Boston Phoenix and the Improper Bostonian, when ArtFarm, an Island organization, presents Conversations with Cymbeline outdoors at Featherstone.
The organization will present a number of scenes from their spring production of the infrequently performed drama from Shakespeare’s later years. After each scene featuring the original cast, the audience will have the opportunity to engage in conversation led by the company’s artistic director, Allyn Burrows, on Thursday night, and with Robert Brustein — theater critic, educator, and Shakespeare authority — on Friday.
Brooke Hardman, founder of ArtFarm, is also a member of the company of the Actors’ Shakespeare Project. She played the female lead last spring in the company’s production of “Cymbeline,” which was presented as theater-in-the-round in a storefront in Somerville. She and three other cast members will reprise their roles and take part in the discussions between scenes. Ms. Hardman says, “We do a little Shakespeare, we talk a little bit, people have picnics. It’s such a great informal classroom.”
ArtFarm brought the same format to Featherstone last summer with scenes from the Boston company’s production of “Othello.” Ms. Hardman notes that questions from the audience covered a multitude of topics from the text of the play, to the life of Shakespeare, to England in Victorian times. She says of Mr. Brustein, “He’s such a treasure and really an encyclopedia for that kind of stuff. He could really illuminate what no one else could.”
She adds, “It’s such a nice way to know the cast and the director. It’s such a casual setting. We ended up having some really fantastic conversations. With hosts like the two we have this year, we’re in very good hands.”
“Cymbeline” is one of the Bard’s lesser-produced plays, although Ms. Hardman and Mr. Burrows both agree that it deserves more attention. Says Mr. Burrows, “‘Cymbeline.’ Its a beautiful story and a lot of people don’t run it up the flagpole very often. It’s a play about the test of wills and the test of love.” Ms. Hardman calls it “a strange and beautiful romance.”
Cymbeline’s daughter Imogen (played by Ms. Hardman) is one of the strongest and most multi-faceted of Shakespeare’s heroines. The play has multiple subplots and many of the twists and turns, disguises, and misunderstandings that characterize much of the Bard’s work. The Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s production was staged without costumes or sets and benefitted from the addition of music performed by the actors on a variety of instruments.
Of the scenes that have been chosen for the Vineyard evenings, Ms. Hardman says, “It will be a selection of scenes that explore Imogen’s various and complicated relationships with a wide range of men.”
“I really do love talk-backs,” she continues. “Theater is a communal experience. All of us gathered in a room for a fleeting moment in time. I love the experience of doing this with an audience. You really get a chance to get to know the audience and take that communal experience to the next level.”
Conversations With Cymbeline, 7 pm, Thursday and Friday, Aug. 11 and 12, Featherstone, Oak Bluffs. $20; $15 seniors & students. ticketsmv.com.