Behind the scenes at Orlando Shakespeare Theater


The Writing of Ellen McLaughlin’s Pericles – PART I


First day of rehearsal for Orlando Shakes production of “The Adventures of Pericles”

The following blog post is the second installment from actor John P. Keller, taking on the lead role of Pericles in Orlando Shakes upcoming modern verse production, of his documentation of the controversial project to translate Shakespeare into contemporary modern English.  

The Translation, Adaptation, or Re-Writing of Shakespeare’s  and Ellen McLaughlin’s Pericles

John Keller

John P. Keller

First Impressions
The first day of rehearsal is a lot like taking your dog for a visit to the local dog park. The metaphor works if you include things like the anticipation of a new place, the excitement of an active play date with some old friends, and the sniffing out of some new faces (or, well… y’know). Then there is that moment—when someone pulls out the tennis ball. Everyone sits on baited breath, attentive—waiting for the game to begin. It’s not altogether dissimilar with the distribution of the show script and the first group read. It’s an act of ceremony.

Once everyone has gone around and said their names and the roles they will attempt to play (I say that with reverence not cynicism), it is the job of the actor who utters the first printed lines to take the play from theoretical to actual, to set a six week rehearsal marathon into motion.

This was how we all began the first day of rehearsal for Orlando Shakes production of The Adventures of Pericles.

Then began a slow series of revelations.

We are working on a revered ancient text…kind of…

We are working on a new play…kind of…

We are working alongside a beloved 400 year old master playwright…kind of…

We are working on something altogether familiar and altogether different…yes.

We are here in a room with a living breathing playwright with her own hopes, fears, opinions, goals, hesitations, and confidences… most definitely.

When working on Shakespeare, I typically find ceremony in the work. William Shakespeare—to actors of Shakespeare’s plays—believe him to be alive in the text. He gives us direction through poetry, enjambed lines, and punctuation. He is both enlightening and utterly frustrating—not to mention annoyingly cajoling and eerily silent.

This last of Shakespeare’s greatest attributes (his death 400 years ago) means that as an actor you can whine about him as much as you like without hurting his feelings. “What was he thinking—drinking—when he wrote this?!”

But when you have a living playwright in the room…not so much. Read the rest of this page »

What Happens Here…Becomes Public

slider_periclesOrlando Shakes upcoming production of The Adventures of Pericles is presented in partnership with Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “Play on! 36 playwrights translate Shakespeare.” “Play on!” is a project that consists of 36 playwrights commissioned to translate 39 plays attributed to Shakespeare into contemporary modern English. This project has caused many raised eyebrows in theater and literary communities across the country, with the common thought being, “Why the #$&% would you need to modernize Shakespeare?”

In light of this controversial undertaking, John P. Keller, New York based actor taking on the lead role of Pericles in Orlando Shakes upcoming modern production, offered to document his involvement in the project in a series of blog posts.


John Keller

John P. Keller

I landed in this room a bit by accident. The kind of accidental series of events that lead a pre-med student to drift out of the science library and into the theater department green room at a small liberal arts college. Truthfully, I think if it were not for the green room I never would have found the theater in the first place. Perhaps I should not admit this, but my love of the theater did not begin as a particular desire to be on stage, but rather the magnetic pull towards the people of the theater.

Artists tend to talk a lot. Conversations—perhaps contrary to popular belief—are not restricted to any particular discipline, philosophical mandate, or body politic. The theater (or perhaps more literally, in my initial experience, the green room) was where the sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists, the historians, the literary geniuses, the scientists, the serious scholars, and the drifting goofballs met to discuss Rumi, Descartes, Shakespeare, Locke, Einstein, Mr. Rodgers, Big Bird, and Parker and Stone—all while exchanging recipes and fart jokes. It was this great sense of gathering that always gave me—the communal conversation—the seriousness of purpose without the over seriousness of self.

Recently, a hot topic lit up green rooms and theater gatherings across the country. The announcement by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival that they would commission 36 living playwrights and dramaturges to translate 39 of the bard’s plays into contemporary English. Read the rest of this page »

The Real Magic Behind ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’

12301669_938964099474883_4939089780294604648_nOrlando Shakespeare Theater’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher is full of starstuff, pixie dust, and about a hundred other wonderful things. But what gives the play its true magic is the spirit of imagination it invokes in its audience.

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Peter and the Starcatcher playwright Rick Elice about the theater style he used to create a magical world for both children and adults:

“When I came on board as playwright, [directors] Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, and Disney’s brilliant dramaturg, Ken Cerniglia, had already hit on a great organizing principle. Act One would take place on board two ships at sea—all cramped quarters, tiny cabins, claustrophobic, dark, wet, sinister. Act Two would take place on a tropical island, with bright sky and big, open spaces. In order to create a simple, stark environment in which to tell a young person’s story in an adult, muscular and surprising way, the directors embraced the style of Story Theater, or Poor Theater—a favorite technique of Alex’s and the trademark of Roger’s great Royal Shakespeare Company triumph, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.

12316631_938964076141552_8737704472011116871_nThe dozen actors would play everyone and everything— sailors, pirates, orphans, natives, fish, mermaids, birds … even doors, passageways, masts, storms, jungles. They would also narrate action and memory, giving each of them a privileged relationship with the audience. This would encourage the audience to be more than spectators; it would invite them to play along, to participate, to imagine … I aimed to write a play seasoned with the contemporary, irreverent tone of Dave and Ridley’s Peter and the Starcatchers and the stylistic flourishes employed by J. M. Barrie a hundred years earlier for the original Peter Pan— high comedy and low, alliteration, puns, broad physical gags, songs, meta-theatrical anachronisms, sentiment delivered so deftly that the end of the play breaks your heart.

0001-162My challenge would be to write this new play in such a way that it merged the two disparate styles … The marriage of classic and modern in the writing brings the Story Theater aspect of the play into sharper focus. And the Story Theater style gave me the freedom to create a vast landscape of far-flung places, physical and emotional. And the wings to take you there.” – Rick Elice, 2014

To read the complete synopsis (with spoilers) of Peter and the Starcatcher, please click here.

Photos by Tony Firriolo features Stephen James Anthony, James Putnam, Kenny Babel,  and the cast.


Happy Holidays from Orlando Shakes

As a token of our appreciation, we created this fun Orlando Shakes phone lock screen just for YOU!

Click the link here to open a new tab and save the image.

Phone Screen

Free Download

Now every time you open your phone, you’ll be reminded of all the wonderful memories that you made at Orlando Shakes.

(For iPhone users, save the image on your phone and use as wallpaper. It works best if you turn “Perspective Zoom” off and pinch the image so it fits perfectly into your screen size.)
We’ll see you in the New Year!



This week, our bellies will be full as will our hearts. We are so thankful to our patrons for all their support and generosity throughout this season.

With the start of the gift giving season officially here, we want to give YOU a little something to make your holiday shopping much easier! Skip the long lines at the mall, order from Orlando Shakes online, and give your loved ones the gift of live theater.

Support Orlando Shakes by remembering to “shop small” and purchase a Shakespeare Sampler!

With a Shakespeare Sampler you’ll receive, one ticket to four Signature Series productions of your choice in Season 27 for only $100! ($193 value)

Shakespeare Sampler Season Ticket Holders receive the best seats available, discounts on additional tickets, and free ticket exchanges within your chosen performances! All performance dates must be chosen up front at the time of purchase. Offer valid only on Saturday, November 28th.

Purchase Your Shakespeare Sampler Now!

Give the gift of live theater with Orlando Shakes’ Stocking Stuffers – only $30 a piece! ($55 value)

Stocking Stuffers may be redeemed for tickets to any remaining production in Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s 27th Season. 

Stocking Stuffers will be mailed out within five (5) business days and can’t be redeemed on the date of purchase.

The value of the certificate will expire on May 1st, 2016. Offer valid only on Monday, November 30th. Not valid for previously purchased tickets. Limit 6 per person.

Purchase Your Stocking Stuffer Now!

We have a day for giving thanks and we have two for getting deals; and now we have a day for giving back – Giving Tuesday!

Giving Tuesday is a global day dedicated to giving generously and this year it is on Dec. 1, 2015. Will you be #unselfie?

Give to Orlando Shakes in one of these two easy ways! 

  1. Donate directly to Orlando Shakespeare Theater on Giving Tuesday.
  2. Sign up for Amazon Smile. Amazon Smile is a program where online retailer Amazon donates 0.5% of eligible purchases to the charity of your choice.
You can support Orlando Shakes by making it your charity of choice and give back through your Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and online holiday purchases through Amazon.

Want to Discover the Next Shakespeare?

Orlando Shakes is proud to present our 13th season of PlayFest! (November 5th through the 8th.)

You may be having these following thoughts: What is a “playfest”? Do you have to dress up? Is it similar to L.A.R.P.I.N.G or a renaissance fair? It’s at the Shakespeare Theater so maybe we’re going back to the Elizabethan age? 

Orlando Shakes is a member of the National New Play Network (NNPN), which is an alliance of nonprofit theaters across the country who promote in the development, production, and continued life of new plays.

At PlayFest, we discover new plays and exhibit them to the public. We have a submission play-tops-playfestpage on our website and as long as the writers follow the guidelines, we allow anyone to submit a play for our consideration. Our Director of New Play Development, Cynthia White and Artistic Director Jim Helsinger, dig through the good and the bad to unearth seven fantastic plays to be presented over the four-day event.

Ginger Lee McDermott in Play Fest's Dancing Lessons.

Ginger Lee McDermott in PlayFest’s Dancing Lessons.

Each of the seven plays is presented as a staged reading at one of our stages. What’s a staged reading? Unlike a full-blown production, no costumes or sets are used during a staged reading. The pieces have directors and actors, and they read from a script. It is an introduction to the work rather than a developed production. Patrons get the chance to sample a wide variety of new works in an intimate, interactive setting.

Over the 13 seasons, we have presented over 125 new plays. Many of the plays shown at PlayFest go on to become full-scale productions. Steven Sachs’s Bakersfield Mist was originally a PlayFest favorite, and went on to be presented on the West End in London and is currently being performed at the Shakes! Then in January, we open another PlayFest gem, Mark St. Germain’s (Relativity, Best of Enemies) Dancing Lessons!

Ellen McLaughlin

Ellen McLaughlin

Award-winning playwright, Ellen McLaughlin, was chosen to translate Shakespeare’s Pericles into modern verse for Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new project PlayOn, in which they will “translate” Shakespeare’s entire theatrical cannon. McLaughlin’s translation, The Adventures of Pericles, will be part of our season as a full production from February 24th to March 26th, 2016. McLaughlin will be hosting a free keynote speech on Saturday, February 7th at 7:30 p.m.

We will have a free playwright’s panel on Sunday, November 8th at 3:30 p.m., where we will talk about diversity in the theater. Four out of our seven playwrights are females; females are often underrepresented in theater. The chosen plays explore relationships and navigate through tough topics such as drug addiction, loss, death, and moving on.

While you are not parading around in breeches and cassocks, you’ll still have many laughs and great fun!  This is a great opportunity to get the “insider’s scoop” on new plays and playwrights.  You may even find you are inspired to dabble in writing one yourself!  

We hope you discover the next Shakespeare! (Or at least a talented playwright that moves you.) This program is an excellent way to find new playwrights and give voice to their work. These fresh plays could end up being produced at the Shakes, or even on Broadway!  Imagine how different our world would be if Shakespeare had never had a chance to preview his work!

So come and support a new generation of talented playwrights at PlayFest! Tickets are only $8!

This blog post was written by Marketing Intern Cassie Moorhead.

Just Me and My Shadow

The cast of The Frog and Princess with their ASL shadows.

The cast of The Frog and Princess with their ASL shadows, 2015. Photo by Landon St. Gordon.

For every Children’s Series production there is a special performance date labeled “ASL,” but what does that even entail? At Orlando Shakes it means you are attending a performance with sign language interpreters, who shadow the actors on stage, creating a unique theater experience for young people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The result is a fun and educational event for everyone, including hearing audiences!

Mandy Longo is the assistant director of Florida Hands and Voices a nonprofit organization that works with children who are hard of hearing or deaf, their families, and the professionals who serve them. She is also the founder of Signing Shadows, who will join the cast of Magic Tree House: A Ghost Tale for Mr. Dickens on November 7 at 2:00 p.m. for a shadow interpreted performance. Marketing Intern Cassie Moorhead sat down with Mandy to learn more about her mission to provide the magic of theater to an underserved community.

Cassie Moorhead: How has sign language been used in the past in the theater?
Mandy Longo: Traditionally, theaters have used traditional interpreting for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Interpreters stand on each side of the stage and sign the dialogue. Imagine you are in a theater and you could see the actors movements in the middle of the stage, but in order to understand what they are saying you had to look to either side of the stage. You would be constantly looking back and forth trying to keep up. While you may understand the gist of what is going on, you miss a lot of the experience.


The cast of The Frog and The Princess and their ASL shadows sign autographs, 2015. Photo by Landon St. Gordon.

CM: How is shadow interpreting different?
ML: In shadow interpreting the interpreter and actor are one. We stand side by side the actors in all black clothing and become their characters. We learn their blocking, their facial expressions, body language, and everything. The audience members who are deaf or hard of hearing are given the full theatrical experience.

CM: Where did you get the idea for the Signing Shadows?
ML: There is a very famous theater in Los Angeles called the Deaf West, which was founded in 1991. They use shadow signing and are currently working on their first Broadway show, Spring Awakening. I recently saw it and was so inspired by the work they have done. It has given me such inspiration for this show. We have been working with the Shakes since Cinderella, which was four seasons ago. They are the only theater in the area to offer shadow interpreting.

CM: How does the process work of assigning interpreters to actors?
ML: I have a Facebook group for the Signing Shadows and I will post the show, the dates, and see what volunteers are interested and available. I am given the script ahead of time, but the first time I am introduced to the actors is during the “Meet and Greet.” During the read through I listen and observe the actors. I try to match them based on personality and appearance. We only have two male interpreters, so we are not always able to always match by gender.

CM: What is challenging about Magic Tree House: A Ghost Tale for Mr. Dickens?
ML: This show is a musical, which is always more challenging. We have to master the choreography and be in sync. There are around 15 musical numbers in the show. The synchronicity is the most challenging aspect of the show by far. Signing is similar to speaking where one word can have multiple meanings and signs. We rehearse separately and have to agree on which sign to use and make sure we are in sync with one another. This is our biggest show we have done so far, but it will be awesome.

Sophia Gilla in Shakespeare with Heart's Merchant of Venice. Photo by Landon St. Gordon.

Sophia Grilla in Shakespeare with Heart’s Merchant of Venice, 2014. Photo by Landon St. Gordon.

CM: Who are your volunteers?
ML: Most of our volunteers are interpreters for public schools or teachers. Our shadow signer for Tiny Tim, Sophia Grilla, is only 13 years old. She is so amazing and inspiring. Signing on to a show is a big commitment. We learn the entire show, so there are many rehearsals. We do not jump in and rehearse with the actors until later in the game where they know the show back and forth. We love it even though it involves so much time. It gives our hearts pleasure. The actors have to put in extra hours to teach us their blocking and whatnot, but they are always more than willing and never complain. The Shakes has been amazing, we always feel welcome.

CM: What are the next projects the Signing Shadows will be working on?
ML: We will be performing Elephant and Piggie’s “We’re in a Play!” on April 30, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. We wish more people knew about shadow interpreting and came to see the shows. The deaf and hard of hearing children are given a unique opportunity to socialize. They can meet other deaf and hard of hearing children from other schools and hopefully make new friends. We have schools from Osceola, Orange, Lake, and Seminole County attending the field trip performance.

Come and see the Signing Shadows for yourself! Florida Hands and Voices and Signing Shadows will appear in a special performance of Magic Tree House: A Ghost Tale for Mr. Dickens on November 7 at 2:00 p.m. There will be an additional shadow interpreted performance for schools groups on November 9 at 10:15 a.m., but general admission tickets can also be attained by the public. Tickets are available online or at the Box Office at (407) 447-1700 ext. 1.


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