Theater : Shakespeare for the Masses - "Wouldn't it be cool," and it is.
It's a tale of serendipity, a meeting of the minds and energies of two creative people who, fueled by their talents and enthusiasms, are making a significant contribution to the cultural offerings of the Island's winter season.
Shakespeare for the Masses, the series of free, hour-long quick-fire staged readings at Vineyard Playhouse, is the brainchild of co-creators and script editors Chelsea McCarthy and Nicole Galland.
Ms. McCarthy, one of the Island's most established actresses, says it all came about from a casual, "Wouldn't it be cool if..." conversation with Ms. Galland.
For Ms. Galland, it is just one more ingredient in an accomplished and extraordinary life. She is the daughter of Michael and Karen Colaneri (her mother's family, the Goethals, trace their Vineyard history to the 1700s), and granddaughter of the late Dr. and Mrs. Robert Nevin of Edgartown. A Harvard graduate with a degree in comparative religions ("I'm more comfortable calling myself a nerd than a scholar"), she did theater work in California and New York, co-founded a teen theater company in California that debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, received a graduate fellowship to study Drama at UC Berkeley, and traveled to Japan where she studied Buddhism.
Ms. Galland returned to the Vineyard about four years ago to work on her fourth book. She and Ms. McCarthy became creative collaborators while both were involved in a Playhouse production of "The Tempest," and had a conversation about Shakespeare and creative possibilities.
The series presents their edited versions of Shakespeare's plays. (A New York theatrical agency has expressed interest in their edited versions of Shakespeare.) The fast-paced shows, each lasting about an hour, are moved along by a narrator, Folio, who explains both the characters and action and even advises when a scene is being omitted because "nothing much happens."
"The narrator is always on the audience's side," Ms. Galland says. "I think we've managed to strike a happy balance where people are enthused enough to want to deal with the more complex elements." She laughs and describes the series as being "irreverently reverent - something like that. We definitely don't worship The Bard."
What began 16 months ago with "Hamlet," now includes "Macbeth," "All's Well That Ends Well," "Julius Caesar," "King Lear," "Othello" and "Anthony and Cleopatra."
This weekend the women have upped the ante with their 12th show, Shakespeare's little-known and seldom-performed, "Troilus and Cressida."
Written in 1602, the play takes place during the Trojan War. There are two plot lines: the war story (the plot of the Iliad), which will be summed up by the narrator, and the fraught love story of Trojan Prince Troilus and Cressida, who winds up being exchanged for a Trojan prisoner of war.
"This is going to be the real testing ground because no one has ever heard of it, and we're doing it during the deadest weekend of the year - the hunker-down-don't-go-out weekend when it's spring break and no one's here," Ms. Galland says.
But the two women, both graduates of Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, know their audiences as well as the plays.
"We talk about the project so much before it ever gets into the hands of the actors, that we're usually pretty in sync about how we want to present it," Ms. McCarthy says, adding, "We've developed a system over the past year and a half... I make the first pass at the script, and highlight what I think should go. Every word gets passed back and forth and debated."
Still, the script editing and preparation requires an inordinate amount of time, for which neither woman nor members of the cast receive any payment. Donations go to the operating costs of Vineyard Playhouse, which allows them use of the building. (The Playhouse is hoping to find contributors to underwrite series.)
The seasoned actors who form the informal repertory company require only two rehearsals - a read-through the day before the show and a run-through the night of the performance. The fight choreography has been staged by Mac Young.
Despite Ms. Galland's attributing the events of her life to serendipity. "My life consists of the heavens parting and clouding over," she says. "I really feel like I'm not the active agent... There's almost no correlation between what I work at and what I'm successful at." But there is thematic logic to her varied and often exotic pursuits.
Although she didn't plan on becoming a historical novelist, Ms. Galland has published three novels set in medieval times: "The Fool's Tale" (Harper Collins, 2005); "Revenge of the Rose" (William Morrow, 2006); and "Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade" (Harper Collins, 2008). Her research has taken her to such places as Great Britain, Venice, Croatia, and Istanbul. She currently has two novels being considered for publication, and she has been commissioned to write a children's book.
All that and Shakespeare. For the next Shakespeare for the Masses, Ms. Galland and Ms. McCarthy are turning their attention to Shakespeare's histories, using Richard II and both parts of Henry IV, three plays condensed into a single ambitious production.
Shakespeare for the Masses presents "Troilus and Cressida", Friday and Saturday, Feb. 19 and 20, 7 pm, Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. Cast includes Amy Sabin, Chelsea McCarthy, Jonah Lipsky, Jamie Alley, Molly Purves, Jill Macy, Xavier Powers, Laurel Johnson, Chris Brophy and as Folio, Nicki Galland. Free. 508-696-6300.