"The Book of Will"

"The Book of Will" follows the efforts of two actors and friends to get William Shakespeare's plays published after his death. Live Arts also has scheduled a dementia-friendly performance so patients and caregivers can enjoy the show.  Photo by Will Kerner. #nosale

Imagine having friends who cared enough about you that they’d toil after your death to preserve the work you loved for posterity.

Playwright William Shakespeare had two such friends. John Heminges and Henry Condell were veteran actors in the King’s Men, the troupe for which Shakespeare wrote. And in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, Condell and Heminges published 36 of their friend’s plays in “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies,” better known as the First Folio, and preserved them for fellow actors — and English classes — yet unborn.

Just in time for Shakespeare’s birthday month, Lauren Gunderson’s “The Story of Will,” which opens Friday evening at Live Arts, explores the loyalty behind the literature.

“If this story hadn’t happened, there’d be no Shakespeare,” said Boomie Pedersen, who is directing Live Arts’ production.

“If not for John Heminges and Henry Condell, we would not have the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays. That is a huge contemplation for 21st-century audiences.”

Pedersen said it’s also important to remember how seriously books were taken in Shakespeare’s day. Publishing a hefty compilation of plays was a time-consuming undertaking that can be hard to comprehend in today’s download-it-now culture.

“It was a very labor-intensive process. A book was a thing of value,” Pedersen said. “It was a piece of craftsmanship.”

Speaking of commitment and craftsmanship, costume designer Dorothy Smith made sure Live Arts’ actors could slip into Shakespeare’s world with the roll of a sleeve.

“She built reproductions of Elizabethan clothes,” Pedersen said.

Working with Smith to dress the cast are assistant costume designer Amanda Wagstaff and tailors Amy Goffman, Tammy Eberly, Tricia Emlet, Jen Kashatas, Linda Zuby, Lisa Healy and Barbarie Hill.

The creative team also includes producer Fran Smith, stage manager Martha Stafford, scenic and lighting designer Jay Taylor, sound designer Tanya K. Manwill, properties designer Eliza Abbey, dramaturg Dawn Schimke, creative consultants Tim White and Carol Pedersen, master electrician Steven Spera, lightboard operators Kathleen Mueller and Kyle Ezer and soundboard operator Lori Pinkey.

The cast includes John Holdren as John, Jeannie Jones as Rebecca, Kiri Gardner as Alice, Chris Baumer as Henry, Jen Downey as Elizabeth, Brian Dowd as Burbage, Mackie Boblette as Ben Jonson, Bit Pressley as Crane, Roger Tolle as Jaggard and Andy Davis as Isaac.

Several cast members are handling multiple roles. Look for Joe Monaghan as Ed Knight, Marcus and Barman; Kate Monaghan as Emilia/Anne; Jim McGinnis as Barman, Bernardo and Compositor; Amy Truesdell as Crier, Marcellus and Susannah; and Denise Folley as Young Hamlet, Marcus and Horatio/Francisco.

All told, 15 actors are taking care of more than two dozen parts, and in keeping with playwright Gunderson’s call for a diverse group of players, “it’s a very diverse group in terms of experience and age, too,” director Pedersen said.

“It’s a lovely ensemble, and I couldn’t be happier with how beautifully they are working together.

“My hope is that the audience will come away with a heightened ability to use their imagination,” Pedersen said, adding that she’ll be pleased “if an audience comes away thinking friendship is a gift and language is precious.

“It’s a joyous play.”

And speaking of friendship, Live Arts is planning a modified dementia-friendly matinee performance for April 28. The cast, crew and staff have been trained to make the performance a more welcoming and comfortable environment.

To help make the play a more inviting experience for audience members with dementia and their caregivers and friends, the sound level will be lower, especially for sounds that may be loud or abrupt. Lights will remain on, albeit at low levels.

There will be a designated quiet area in the lobby, and one door leading to the lobby will stay slightly open during the performance. Audience members will be free to speak during the show and leave their seats whenever they like.

If having a little advance preparation will make the April 28 experience more comfortable and predictable, Live Arts will offer a familiarization event at 2 p.m. April 20. Audience members with dementia and their friends can meet with staff members, get a good look at the set, see what the seats are like and locate the restrooms for future reference. Copies of the script will be available for folks who’d like them.

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Jane Dunlap Sathe is the features editor for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7249 or jsathe@dailyprogress.com

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