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Arts Beat: SLO Repertory Theatre welcomes back audiences with a Shakespearean romp

Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre
The three actors featured in the production include Billy Breed, Suzy Newman and Jeff Salsbury.

San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre (SLO REP) is opening its doors June 18 for the first time since it closed for the pandemic in March 2020. The theater will present The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [abridged], a fast-paced comedy featuring three actors who weave their way through all of Shakespeare’s comedies, tragedies and histories.

Kevin Harris, the managing artistic director for SLO REP and director of the play, said the show isn’t like a traditional Shakespeare production.

“I would say that this is really the polar opposite of that. So, don't be intimidated by the word Shakespeare. This is a wild romp and most of it is in our own language, and we hit all the plays, but we do it in a specific way,” Harris said. “There’s a ton of Shakespeare in there, but you need no pre-knowledge of Shakespeare or any knowledge — that’s all sort of explained in the show in very humorous ways as we work our way through the canon.”

Harris said this isn’t the first time SLO REP has done this play. They performed it in 2011 and he learned then that it's really a show for all ages.

“I mean children love, love love this show and adults say it's the funniest show they’ve ever seen. So there’s something for everyone,” Harris said.

Harris said he wanted to choose a play for the reopening that would create a positive environment.

“When we were really looking at the appropriate show to reopen, we wanted something that, overall, would be joyous,” Harris said. “People have been through a lot in the last 15 months and we want to welcome them back to the theater in a way that is going to be fun to them.”

Suzy Newman, one of the actors in the show, said she’s feeling a mix of emotions as opening night approaches. “There’s an underlying feeling of joy and giddiness to everything, even though on the surface it's kind of scary. It's weird. There's a little trepidation — we don’t know what's going to happen — but we do, we’ve been doing this for decades,” Newman said.

Newman said in the past the show was written and performed by three men, so SLO REP made a few adjustments for their production.

“There’s something different about it now that there’s a woman in there. So some of the sense of humor is different,”Newman said. “What's more unusual for me as an actress is that usually I’m the one that has all the wigs and the corsets or whatever. And the guys [have] one or two costumes and they're just combing their hair. But the two guys in this play are the ones that are changing wigs and costumes and I really have, like, 5-6 characters.”

Preparing for her parts has been a bit different. When she first got the script, Newman said she couldn't put her whole heart and energy into it because it seemed like the play might never happen. But since they set a date for the performance, she’s been invested wholeheartedly.

“My process kind of lengthened a little, but it could not be more fun — and it’s very physical. That’s also a really great part of it is that you take the ride, you end, you’re dripping with sweat and you’re just having a good time,” Newman said. “I guess that’s a little bit about [my] process, but I just threw myself into it.”

Harris said it has been a challenge getting back into the swing of doing theater, especially with so many uncertainties about when performances could start.

“We ended up just having to choose a date and believe that that was the date — and our hearts were broken a couple of times in that,” Harris said. “But there were so many variables over the last 15 months that, if you get lost in all the different scenarios and you try to really wrap your head around all of them, you’ll just go crazy and you’re not going to adequately prepare.”

Harris said they have been working on the show for about 2 ½ months and were ready whenever guidelines allowed the theater to open.

SLO REP is reopening at 100% capacity, according to state and CDC guidelines. Audience members will need to wear masks while in the theater, but actors will not be masked during the performance.

Harris said he’s excited to welcome people back to the theater.

“There’s nothing like the energy when the house lights go down in the theater because anything is possible,” Harris said. “I think that after this pandemic, that energy when the house lights go down and you have a group of people who haven't seen each other in 15 months — it's just going to be overwhelming. It’s going to be beautiful, and I’m sure there will be tears involved.”

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [abridged] runs from June 18 through August 8 with performances Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Ticket prices range from $25- $35.

To purchase tickets or learn more about the show, visit SLO REP's website.

Editor’s note: SLO REP is a sponsor of KCBX.

The KCBX Arts Beat is made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation of San Luis Obispo County.

Lauren Walike joined KCBX as its news manager in February 2021. In addition to her KCBX work, Lauren also serves as news director for KCPR-FM, Cal Poly’s student-run radio station, and digital director of Mustang Media Group, Cal Poly’s student-run news organization. She will graduate from Cal Poly’s Honors Program in June 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in journalism with minors in Integrated Marketing Communications and Media Arts, Society and Technology.
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