By Linda Dillman
What does it take to bring a centuries-old comedy to the modern stage? A lot if you need to feed your theatre patrons and work around the schedules of busy high schoolers.
Canal Winchester High School is presenting “The Taming of the Shrew,” adapted by teacher/director Todd Phillips, for the its 27th Madrigal Dinner, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 14 at 2 p.m. in the school’s cafetorium at 300 Washington St.
Behind-the-scenes work began at the end of 2015 for student cast and crew members like co-stage managers Natasha Hoskinson and Zoe Yeomans, both seniors. As for Phillips, his involvement began six to eight months in advance.
“I try to read the full script at least four times, read commentaries, and watch as many quality performances, live and online, as I can,” said Phillips, who first adapted the play in 1997 and then again in 2006. “Since Shakespeare is iconic, there are people who know so much more than I do about performing it. I never stop learning new things. My first challenge is adapting it to fit our timeframe. We try to keep the entire event to about two to 2-1/2 hours. That includes the meal and all the music.”
While Phillips said he loves the Shakespearean language, many in a modern audience are not familiar enough with it to catch all of its subtleties.
“We have to find the most key elements of the plot and emphasize them,” said Phillips. “Shakespeare’s stories always have a main plot, but countless sub-plots, so some of these are cut or trimmed. I also look for places where audience members can play small roles in the story.”
By adding an audience participation element and staging it in the school’s cafeteria, Phillips said the cast is able to create an intimate performance with a surprise element. Patrons never know when they may be called upon to join the story.
Eleven different plays are cycled through the madrigal format, with a decade between repeat performances. While most of the “Taming of the Shrew” script is the same as in 2006, changes were made for the 2016 production.
“I’ve added back in a few characters and lengthened some scenes,” Phillips said. “This was done for the actors. I try to tailor the actors’ experience to fit their skill set.”
Hoskinson began her involvement with the annual madrigal as a freshman and has served as a server, singer and dancer. She applied for the stage manager position before school started.
“It’s a lot of fun and I love the cast,” said Hoskinson. “For my senior year I wanted to help with more than just food. I was a stage manager for the Shorts Festival in November. Stage manager is an important position. It can be a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. During the performances, we’ll be back stage making sure props and people are in place and in the right costume.”
This is Yeomans first year with the madrigal, but she was also involved in the Shorts Festival. She plans to audition for CATCO’s “Kabuki Sleeping Beauty” in April and attended the Eastland Performing Arts Academy in Reynoldsburg.
“My dad is an audio and video technician and encouraged me to follow my interest in theatre because of his profession,” said Yeomans. “As stage managers, we’ve organized costumes and ran lines with the actors. We’re in charge of taking stage directions and director’s notes.”
Profits from the performances are used to enhance the classroom experience for students and to purchase supplies and equipment.
“This year, we’re beginning a multi-year project with the help of the Canal Winchester administration, instrumental department and the Canal Winchester Performing Arts Boosters,” said Phillips. “We’ll be investing in some needed upgrades in the school district’s Oley Speaks Auditorium, including a renovated lighting system, a video monitoring and recording system, upgraded audience seating and enhanced back stage rehearsal and storage spaces.”
Tickets for “The Taming of the Shrew” can be reserved by calling (614) 836-1448 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline for reservations is Feb. 11. Tickets are $15 for the evening performance and $10 for the Sunday matinee.