Behind the scenes at Orlando Shakespeare Theater


Summer Camp Confessions with Intern Lexie Hoag

In school, reading Shakespeare is classified as some form of torture. Even I, a bona fide Shakespeare fan girl and theater geek, could barely tolerate listening to yet another classmate stumble through line after line of iambic pentameter. Their monotone voice and lack of inflection only proved the fact that they had no idea what they were reading. (I’d rather not lend you my ears, thanks so much.) What was worse than their poor cold reading skills was listening to their complaints, as if Shakespeare was boring. Despite the dread I felt in hearing my fellow students butcher the greatest poetry ever written, I couldn’t comprehend how they didn’t appreciate the genuine brilliance of what they were studying.

DSC00871I have a theory that no one actually dislikes Shakespeare. They may protest and call it dull, confusing, or tedious, but I believe they just haven’t been exposed to his works in a way that related to them and enabled them to gain a true understanding. That’s where Orlando Shakespeare Theater comes in. Orlando Shakes has a variety of summer camps targeted at different age groups, which allow students to take on the Bard’s great plays in a whole new way. Last summer, I got the chance to participate in one of their production camps, Shakespeare with Heart. Performing as Portia in The Merchant of Venice, I worked on this production alongside students with and without special needs.

It was so refreshing to get the opportunity to work with people who were completely committed to the task before them. All of us became consumed by our roles and with performing them to the absolute best of our ability. In today’s society, that level of commitment and focus is rare; it’s a trait I value greatly in others. Personally, I have two settings: either I can’t focus, or I can’t not focus. When I’m really into something, it’s seriously hard for me to give attention to anything else. In other situations, my obsessive tendencies get me labeled as “intense” (for those who wish to put it nicely), and I quickly become frustrated when others fail to take tasks as seriously as I do. But at camp, everyone was as eager to dedicate their time, attention, and hard work to the program. For once, I wasn’t the only person in the room excited about Shakespeare! Everyone was thrilled for the journey we were about to take together. The program is designed so that each student is constantly challenged. No one is coasting by, and it’s not easy on anyone, but the result is that each individual proves they are capable of more than even they themselves believed.

CampConfessions_2In the past, I’ve worked with special needs students in a ballet program called dance therapy. As rewarding as that volunteer experience was, it was definitely structured so I was a “helper” working as a mentor and guide to a single student. Shakespeare with Heart is different: instead of helping the special needs student achieve her goals, I worked side by side with the entire cast towards the common goal of putting on the best show possible. As my fellow actors and peers, all the students involved contributed to my knowledge and growth as a performer and a person.

The friends I made there were not just for the moment. In this two week program, I bonded with my cast mates, creating a unique community founded on our shared experience. To improve at anything, it is necessary to put yourself out there. When you are surrounded by people who are all making themselves as vulnerable as you, and taking the emotional risks that are necessary to develop, you can’t help but feel close to them. It is so magical that you can achieve that level of openness with a large group of people so quickly. No one was afraid of potential failure, because everyone was rooting for each other’s success. A connection this close is bound to last. I still Facebook stalk my “little sister” (who played the role of Balthasara) to see what new adventures life has in store for her. Next week, I’m going to see my “cousin” (“Nerissa”) perform in her high school’s production of Measure for Measure. These beautiful young people are more than cast mates, more than friends, they are my family. I can only thank them for being a part of my life.

CampConfessions_3Orlando Shakes summer camps are enriching, educational, and just all around fun. As young people, it’s hard to find a place where it is safe to put your heart on the line by putting your full effort in to something. There are but few social groups that you can rely on to be supportive as you take on the burden of challenging yourself to be better. The summer camp communities at Orlando Shakespeare Theater provide that space. Together we learn about theater, Shakespeare, and ourselves.


IMG_20150312_172122Lexie Hoag is currently a Marketing and Public Relations Intern at Orlando Shakespeare Theater, as well as a student at Valencia College. At the end of the semester she will complete her AA and then plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Public Relations. She can often be found rereading books, snuggling her puppy, and haunting local theaters.


Playwright’s Corner: Jennifer Hoppe-House

photo (29)If you attended our new play reading festival (PlayFest) in 2013, you might remember a little play called Bad Dog. A big box of family drama tied up with a comedic ribbon, Jennifer Hoppe-House’s play reading sparked conversation from both audiences and actors alike. Orlando Shakes decided to continue the dialogue by including this World Premiere dramedy in its 26th Season. Before you see Bad Dog (playing April 8 – May 3, 2015) in our Goldman Theater, get to know the playwright behind this biting new play.

About the Playwright
Jennifer Hoppe-House is a film and television writer (Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, DirecTV’s Damages, and Netflix’s upcoming Grace and Frankie featuring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin). She began as a playwright in Texas and has written smaller pieces for productions in New York and Austin, one of which was a finalist in the Actors Theatre of Louisville 10-Minute Play Competition. Jennifer is a member of The Writers Guild West and the Dramatists Guild of America.

OST: You’ve mentioned before that Bad Dog is your first full-length play. How has the process of writing and workshopping this piece both challenged and helped you as a playwright?
JHH: I’ve workshopped it three times, which amazes me. I’ve had so many opportunities to hear the play and hone it. And hearing a play, especially in front of an audience, gives you a sense of rhythm and pacing that you can’t get simply by reading over the pages, mumbling the parts yourself, which we all do, I think. Thank God for actors – I would tank my own play if I had to perform any of these roles. And there are moments here and there that I wrote as drama that played as comedy; moments when comedy played as drama, which surprised me. So, that’s a delight. The challenge came in with a few scenes that had to be edited or jettisoned altogether, and especially the character Abby, whose attitude about Molly had to be recalibrated. I had to find what was truthful, not just what existed to move the plot.

Ginger Lee McDermott as Molly. Photo by Landon St. Gordon.

Ginger Lee McDermott as Molly in Bad Dog. Photo by Landon St. Gordon.

OST: What inspired you to write Bad Dog?
JHH: First, I wanted to explore family violence and addiction, which tend to be standard fare on the American menu, but not in a way that outwardly plumbed the pathos. I just wanted to observe their effect. I also wanted to look at collective memory. What is truth and what is perspective? And can facts be distorted by the way we treat them? The Drexler family – the family in this play – is funny. Humor is their defense against a painful past. Does wit cushion our recollections or warp them?

And within this same conversation, I was interested in a cultural shift where parenting is concerned. Because there were some pretty prevalent parenting styles in the 50s, 60s, and 70s – where parents freely hit their kids, they smacked them and whipped them and hit them – and it was passed down and shrugged off as if it had no effect. I saw a MAD MEN episode in which Don Draper was at a block party and a neighbor hit one of his kids, or maybe he hit a neighbor’s kid, I don’t remember, but I do remember that when I was growing up, you could hit other people’s kids without repercussions. That was acceptable in some quarters. And I thought, “Yes! Exactly!” And addiction is another theme that affects so many families – often addiction and violence are the double feature playing inside families.

OST: Describe this play in 3 words.
JHH: Comedy as drama.

OST: Describe yourself in 3 words.
JHH: Drama as comedy.

OST: How is playwriting different from writing for film and tv? Which format do you prefer?
JHH: I heard an axiom once, and to some extent I think it’s true, that film is about plot, TV is about character, and plays are about ideas. It’s a simplification, but film is a visual medium, and as a screenwriter, you try to come into scenes late and leave early. It’s about pacing. TV is often about what these characters get themselves into, and plays are much more about themes and language. They can be done stylistically, they can be mannered, they can be odd genres like magical realism, they can be musicals, they can be experimental, they can explore and unfold slowly. I love it. I much prefer writing plays. And I don’t get studio or network notes.

OST: What was the first thing you ever wrote that made you proud?
JHH: In high school I wrote a couple of pieces for the annual literary magazine. One of them won for best essay or something. I think it was about a homeless guy in Dallas. I’m sure it was overwrought, but I won twenty bucks.

OST: Given the title of your play: Cat or dog person?
JHH: Dog, dog, dog. You know where you stand with dogs. Cats are mercurial and occasionally violent. They scare me.

OST: Fill in the blank: “If I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a _______________.”
JHH: Hobo.

OST: If you were trapped on a desert island and could have 3 books what would they be?
JHH: Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger, A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and Sula by Toni Morrison.

OST: In Bad Dog, Molly and her family are dealing with a lot of serious addictions and issues. What do you hope audiences take away from seeing this production?
JHH: I hope they know that nothing they have done or can do gets anyone sober. Only people who want sobriety, get it.

Tickets to Bad Dog are available now by calling (407) 447-1700 ext. 1 or visiting us online.

Parental Guidelines: Bad Dog is an adult story of family dysfunction that contains strong language, same sex relationships, alcohol abuse, and substance abuse. The play is for adult audiences only. Click here for more specific parental guidelines.

An Intern’s Insight: Lexie Hoag

IMG_3543Every Friday morning I wander into Orlando Shakespeare Theater, and I take a deep breath. “OMG! I’m breathing the same air as the many wonderful, talented actors, technicians, and administrators who contribute to the success of Orlando Shakes! That basically makes me, like, the coolest human being ever,” my brain screams. I freak out and my inner fan girl jumps about crying tears of complete joy. But, out of courtesy to the staff, I attempt to restrain myself. I (try to) act cool, calm, and collected, but really every day I’m amazed to have the opportunity to be a part of an organization I love so dearly.

Some days the work sounds a bit mundane. When my best friend asks what I did all day, and I say I stuffed hundreds of envelopes for the United Arts ‘Campaign for the Arts’ mailing campaign, he says he’s sorry or that it sounds boring. But then I have to explain to him that he doesn’t understand at all! Never before have I found addressing mail to be so truly exciting. No matter how small or boring a task may seem, I take great pride in it. Just because a project may not sound super fun, does not mean that it doesn’t need to get done. I’m happy to do anything that the Theater needs, so to me it doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s an absolute privilege.

CAM00389That being said, I don’t want to sound like my job is at all monotonous. I get to take on a variety of duties, all of which have contributed to my knowledge of the inner workings of the administration offices of a professional theater. From sitting in on meetings, to pitching my own ideas, to writing this very article, I’m constantly broadening my understanding. If I can get enthused about mail, just imagine how thrilled I was when I got to interview Acting/Education Intern Sarah Caroline Billings for the first ever donor newsletter. My heart soared! I was even invited to sign the mural wall outside of the McLaughlin Rehearsal Studio, which bares the signatures of all those who have been a part of the Orlando Shakes company–including Sir Patrick Stewart!

Being exposed to both the onstage and behind the scenes efforts of a successful theater has really given me a sense of where I want to be in the future. As a young person, I never dreamed that the performing arts were something I’d come to be so wildly passionate about. I took theater as an elective in middle school, but that was mostly because I was uncoordinated and dreaded P.E. (Sweating like a pig in the Florida sun and forever picked last for kickball? I don’t think so.) It wasn’t until high school that I really got involved, and realized the world of theater was something I cared about pursuing. I took Drama I on the advice of an upperclassman who claimed the teacher was beyond amazing. (He is.) Next thing I knew, I’d found my niche in the universe. Theater has given me a sense of purpose and the ability to feel at ease in my own skin.

Of all the things that this internship has provided me, I’m most thankful for the assurance that if I seek out theater, it will always be a part of my life. Everyone wants their days to be filled with joy, excitement, and fulfillment. Through theater I believe I’ve found that for myself. No matter how many times I enter Orlando Shakes, I don’t think I will ever feel less delighted to just breathe.


IMG_20150312_172122Lexie Hoag is currently the Individual Giving and Special Events Intern at Orlando Shakespeare Theater, as well as a student at Valencia College. At the end of the semester she will complete her AA and then plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Public Relations. She can often be found rereading books, snuggling her puppy, and haunting local theaters.

Actor Spotlight: Kennedy Joy Foristall

To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch is arguably one of the greatest protagonists in American literature. Whether he reminds you of your father, an uncle, or a beloved school teacher, everyone feels some connection towards Atticus. His unflinching bravery against an angry lynch mob and tireless defense of the innocent Tom Robinson make him a pillar by which to mirror our own lives. But one thing is for certain, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel isn’t Atticus’ story–it’s his 6 year old daughter’s.

KennedyJoyForistallCommTheat15_3In Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s current production of To Kill a Mockingbird, the spunky young Jean Louise “Scout” Finch is played by local actress Kennedy Joy Foristall. You may have seen her on stage at Mad Cow Theatre, Garden Theatre, The Abbey, and many others, but she got her first gig playing an “Arabian girl” in a community theater production of Aladdin Jr. when she was just eight years old. “I was very shy, so my parents and I decided it would be good for me. I wanted to come out of my shell,” she said.

And come out of her shell she has. As Scout, Kennedy Joy (also known as “KJ”) carries much of the first act of the show–which, at 12 years old, is quite impressive. When asked what her biggest challenge was in approaching this role, she shared that she struggled to get in the mindset of a 6 year old. “I started observing the little kids in my neighborhood and noticed that they were very fidgety, so I try to make sure I’m never standing still on stage for too long.” But despite their age difference, KJ has discovered that she and her young character have quite a bit in common.”Scout and I share a love for the outdoors and knowledge. We’re both very inquisitive and want to make the world a better place.”

KjafterhaircutThe biggest step KJ took to transform into her tomboy role was to chop off her long hair. She donated a whopping 13 inches to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, which provides free natural hair wigs to women fighting breast cancer–a cause she is very passionate about after losing her grandmother to the disease in 2009. For this reason, she’s also interested in becoming a pediatric oncologist when she grows up.

You’re probably wondering where school fits into KJ’s busy acting career, but she’s clear on that: “School comes first”. K12 Virtual School gives her the flexibility she needs to do it all. “I bring my homework with me to rehearsals and work during our breaks.” But make no mistake, she also makes room for being a kid. Besides acting, her favorite activities include spending time with family and friends in the water (swimming, canoeing, paddle-boarding, etc.). She also loves to travel and has visited Mexico, the Bahamas, and the Smoky Mountains.


Photo by Tony Firriolo features Kennedy Joy Foristall and Warren Kelley.

Rehearsals have already started for KJ’s next gig–Dinah Lord in The Philadelphia Story at Mad Cow. Even though her time with the cast of To Kill a Mockingbird will come to an end on March 8, this busy young actress believes that Scout will always be a part of her. “This entire experience and everyone involved in it will always have a special place in my heart.”

All remaining performances of To Kill a Mockingbird are sold out–but guests have the opportunity to purchase standby tickets 90 minutes before each show starts.

For information on our standby policy, click here.

Shakespearely Yours,
Melissa Landy, PR Coordinator

Henry V – Dramaturg Info

Bought tickets to see Henry V (playing February 18 – March 22, 2015) but don’t know the first thing about the play? Never fear! Read through our dramaturgical notes for the history behind Shakespeare’s most famous history play.

Who the heck was Henry V?

HENRY copyThe son of Henry IV, Henry was born in 1387. He was knighted as Prince of Wales by Richard II in 1399, when his father usurped the throne in the same year. Henry was descended from John of Gaunt, the third son of Edward III, which was his claim to the throne.

In 1403 Henry abandoned his recklessness ways and joined forces with his father to fight Harry Hotspur at Shrewsbury. The 16-year-old prince was almost killed when he was shot in the face with an arrow, but he survived due to the good care he was given, such as honey being used as an antiseptic. Henry was left with permanent scars.

Henry became king upon his father’s death in 1413. Determined to regain the lands in France held by his ancestors, he invaded in 1415 and captured the French harbor city of Harfleur. He then defeated a superior French force in the Battle of Agincourt, one of the most famous battles of English history.

In 1420, he entered Paris, and married Catherine of Valois.  He fell ill and died in September 1422 from dysentery. His son, who become Henry VI, ruler of both France and England, was just a few months old when his father died.

Other things to know:

About the Black Prince of Wales
Edward, Black Prince of Wales, was the first born son of King Edward III. When father and son invaded France, they won the Battle of Crecy when their company, made mostly of English archers, defeated a vastly larger French force of armored knights. The cream of the French nobility was destroyed. The Black Prince died young, however, and the invasion was France was not completed.

About Richard II
Upon the death of Edward III, the throne passed to the Black Prince’s son, Richard II, who was only ten years old. As he came of age, Richard was notorious for his ill-advised government, leading to civil war. Henry of Bolingbroke usurped the throne, becoming Henry IV. Richard II was murdered, making the “Hundred Year’s War” for the English Throne.

About Prince Hal and Falstaff
Prince Hal (Bolingbroke’s son) spent his youth drinking with his best buddy, the fat knight Falstaff and his cronies Bardolph, Pistol, Nym, and Mistress Quickly. Henry eventually left Falstaff, and fought bravely in the Battle of Shrewsbury.

About the Invasion of France and Harfleur
After his father’s death, Prince Hal became Henry V and made claim to the throne of France. He invaded the country with 12,000 men and attacked Harfleur, but the siege took five long weeks and many of his men died of dysentery. After taking Harfleur, Henry began the long march to the English stronghold at Calais, but he was delayed at the Somme River, and when he finally crossed it, his sick and enfeebled troops were reduced to 6,000.

About Agincourt and the English longbow
Meanwhile, a French army of over 20,000 descended on Henry, stopping him near the castle of Agincourt. Henry chose a field with forests on either side as his battleground, forcing the French into a narrow funnel. The rains had turned the field to thick mud, miring the French horses and heavily armored knights. The English longbowmen sent thousands of arrows into the French lines, killing horses and men alike and at the end of the day, the English won one of the greatest victories in the history of warfare.


Getting to Know You: Arika Richardson

IMG_3034In a company full of theater artists, it may be surprising to know that not everyone on our staff was bit by the “theater bug”. Arika Richardson is one of those people. Joining us as the Development Associate this past summer, she holds a degree in Advertising and Public Relations from UCF and has an extreme passion for nonprofits. Previously, she’s spent time as a Membership Coordinator for our Loch Haven neighbor, the Orlando Science Center, and as a Volunteer Docent at The Central Florida Zoo.

While you may not see Arika on stage anytime soon, you will always see her in the audience. From ballet to theater to Disney on Ice, her parents exposed her to cultural events growing up, instilling her with a deep appreciation for the arts. She carried this with her to college, founding the Lady Knights—a social club in which young women attend arts and culture events and volunteer their time in the community.

Her appreciation for being exposed to the arts as a child has also inspired her to spearhead our current “Be a Peach” Power2Give Campaign, which will provide Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Florida mentors and their “littles” with free tickets to our upcoming productions, including James and the Giant Peach. We’ve reached 45% of our goal for the campaign, which ends January 30th! (For details or to make a donation, click here.)

Another project Arika is looking forward to working on is our 7th Annual Mock Trial: The Trial of the Merry Wives of Windsor on February 24th. “Because it’s all improv, it’s totally unpredictable and will be very fun to watch!” she said. Ironically, the first thing Arika ever saw at Orlando Shakes was 2011’s 3rd Annual Mock Trial (Darcy vs. Wickham) as part of a group outing with—you guessed it—her Lady Knights. (Talk about coming full circle!)

vespOne of Arika’s favorite memories at OST so far was assisting the marketing department in filming our Les Miz flashmob. “I got goosebumps watching them sing ‘One Day More’ in the Mall at Millenia. Everyone was so good!” When she’s not at work, attending arts events, or watching movies, you can most likely find Arika playing with her rescued kitten Vesper.

It takes all kinds to run a theater—not just actors, designers, and directors. Sometimes the secret ingredient is people like Arika, who simply share their profound appreciation for the arts with everyone they come in contact with.

Shakespearely Yours,

Melissa Landy, Public Relations Coordinator

The Future Musicals Survey results are in!

Dear Friends,

Last month we sent a Future Musicals Survey to everyone on our e-mail list—and the response was tremendous! 1,593 of you told us which musicals you’d like to see on Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s stage in the next five seasons. Here are your top fifteen most popular responses:

Screen shot 2014-11-20 at 3.00.21 PM
The Romeo & Juliet-inspired West Side Story ranked the highest, which makes sense for a Shakespeare Theater. Additional favorites included Fiddler on the Roof, Spamalot, Chicago, Cabaret, and My Fair Lady.


Photo by Tony Firriolo

The survey also allowed write in responses, a number of which said “Just bring back Les Miz!”, “Anything with Davis Gaines!”, and “Focus on Shakespeare.” To answer all three: We hope to get the chance to bring back Les Miserables (but it will be a few years), we love Davis, and (never fear, Bard fans!) we promise at least two Shakespeare productions in our Signature Series every season.

Top write-in votes for future musicals included La Cage aux Folles, Cats, A Chorus Line, The Drowsy Chaperone, Jersey Boys, Show Boat, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Rent, Light in the Piazza, 1776, and many others. But South Pacific was the clear favorite with 26 write-ins.

As always, our season selection depends on the availability of producing rights, among many other factors. We’re not announcing any future musicals yet—but you can look forward to another familiar Broadway title in our 27th Season! Stay tuned for more news and thanks again for taking the survey.

– Jim Helsinger, Artistic Director


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