Tessa Thompson Leads Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles' AS YOU LIKE IT, Now thru 7/29
The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles (SCLA), under the artistic direction of Ben Donenberg, returns after 16 years to The Japanese Garden on the grounds of the VA West Los Angeles Healthcare Center Campus with a summer production of William Shakespeare's romantic comedy "As You Like It," directed by Royal Shakespeare Company artist Kenn Sabberton – tonight, July 10 to July 29.
The cast is led by Tessa Thompson as Rosalind; she is known for roles on "Veronica Mars," "Grey's Anatomy," "Heroes" and upcoming BBC America "Copper," as well as Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet" and Cordelia in "King Lear" here in Los Angeles. Peter Cambor, who played Nate Getz on "NCIS: Los Angeles" plays Orlando; Michael Dorn, well known as the Klingon Lt. Commander Worf from "Star Trek," plays both Duke Frederick and Duke Senior; Diane Venora, who played Hamlet for the New York Shakespeare Festival, as Jacques; John Lavelle, who played Ben in "The Graduate" on Broadway, as Touchstone; and veteran Los Angeles stage actor Tony Abatemarco as Adam and Corin. The cast also features McKinley Belcher, Kendra Chell, Brian Joseph, Gabriella Rhodeen, Andrew Schwartz, and Lindsay Rae Taylor.
Ben Donenberg, Artistic Director of The Shakespeare Center said, "We are returning to the VA grounds to present Shakespeare – this time at the Japanese Garden, one of the loveliest outdoor venues on the West Side. Here we have a chance to enjoy one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies, with a great company of wonderful Los Angeles Shakespearean actors, led by a 10-year veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company, complete with live music – an important part of our productions – on a lovely mid-summer evening, with al fresco dining. Additionally this allows us to continue working with Veterans, who will serve as valued members of our backstage and front of house team. Two veterans will also be part of the performing company, and we are making complimentary tickets available to active military personnel and veterans."
The production features original music by Brian Joseph, who wrote original music for the Shakespeare Center's 2010 production of "Much Ado About Nothing," featuring Lyle Lovett and Helen Hunt. The scenery is by Gary Wissmann, costumes by Holly Poe Durbin, and the lighting by Trevor Norton.
The Japanese Garden on the grounds of the West Los Angeles VA is at 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif. (adjacent to the Brentwood Theatre). Tickets for "As You Like It" are available online at shakespearecenter.org. For information about the ticket program for active military and veterans, call SCLA at 213-481-2273.
Director Kenn Sabberton has set the play in present day Los Angeles, where Shakespeare's court is likened to the corridors of governmental and corporate power and financial influence, and where the events of the day have brought about a sorry and sour state of affairs, stemming from family strife and political maneuverings among the characters.
Since this is Shakespeare, after all, the characters repair to the forest. The Forest of Arden has become the local rural orange groves, adjacent farmland, and campgrounds where the characters gather to sing, dance, fall in love, and discuss what is truly important for their own health and the health of mankind – as many Angelinos who regularly enjoy the natural settings that are easily accessible to all who live here.
This production brings the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles back to the VA grounds for the first time since 1992. The VA location speaks to many long-time themes of the Shakespeare Center – including presenting Shakespeare in a relevant way through settings that speak to present-day Angelenos, working with veterans, and using theatre as a tool for personal and community transformation.
Kenn Sabberton, who directed the 2009 outdoor production of "As You Like It" on the plaza of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, has been an actor, director and teacher for over thirty years. He was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company for ten years, working in London, Stratford-Upon-Avon and New York. While there, Sabberton was heavily involved with the education department's school programming, and directed shows for the RSC fringe for which he served as Artistic Director.
Sabberton went on to work in London at the Royal National Theatre, followed by the Aquila Theatre Company in New York and the NYU Center for Ancient Studies, where he was responsible for studying, lecturing and researching Shakespeare. During his time with Aquila Theatre Company and the NYU Center for Ancient Studies, Sabberton worked on many Shakespeare productions and was named an associate artist.
Most recently, he directed shows in London, which have toured around the United States and played off Broadway. Currently, Sabberton is touring in a production of Bill Naughton's Alfie, directed by Oliver Award winning director David Thacker. Sabberton is a registered fight director and a registered foster carer, CRB certified to work with Young People. He has taught in many drama schools and has run a number of summer acting schools for children with disabilities.
Veterans Summer Employment is supported by VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Sony Pictures Entertainment, The Capital Group, and the Pentagon Federal Credit Union. "As You Like It" is made possible in part by The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation.
Since 1985, The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles has been a cherished community resource committed to making Shakespeare accessible, relevant and enriching for students, educators, artists and audiences from all walks of life.
Ben Donenberg, one of the city's greatest proponents of Shakespeare, started the Shakespeare Center with a free production of "Twelfth Night" in Pershing Square and since then has provided performances of Shakespeare, along with outreach programs such as Will Power to Youth, which provides hands-on artistic experience with paid job training and arts education for at-risk youth. The program has been so successful that it has been replicated in communities around the country.
Well known for its L.A.-centric approach to Shakespeare, past Shakespeare Center production highlights include "A Midsummer Night's Dream" featuring jazz standards set in the 1920s along Central Avenue, a 1990s "Julius Caesar" on the steps of City Hall, "Twelfth Night" on Venice Beach, "As You Like It" featuring Peter Seeger's music imagined in Yosemite National Park, "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" featuring Beatles music in a suburban 1970s San Fernando Valley, as well as a contemporary "The Taming of Shrew" at a time-share, featuring music by contemporary Los Angeles composers. Throughout its 26-year history, the Shakespeare Center has presented Shakespeare that reflects the landscape, history and people of Los Angeles, rendering interpretations that are artistically, financially, geographically, and physically accessible to all.
The center recently presented its 25th Anniversary production of "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre starring Helen Hunt, Tom Irwin, Lyle Lovett, Grace Gummer, Dakin Matthews, Stephen Root, David Ogden Stiers, Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins; it also hosted the West Coast Premiere of "The Trial of Hamlet" having previously been presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., Boston and Chicago.
Now in its 19th year, Will Power to Youth (WPY) is the highly acclaimed youth development program at The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles. WPY combines academics, human relations, job training and art to create a unique summer employment opportunity for youth aged 14-19.
WPY has also been nationally recognized by the National Endowment of the Arts, First Lady Laura Bush, and The U.S. Department of Justice for its effectiveness at addressing unemployment, youth violence and high-school dropout rates. In 2008, WPY was selected as one of ten arts programs for inclusion in the groundbreaking report The Qualities of Quality: Excellence in Arts Education and How to Achieve It released by Harvard's Project Zero . In 2005, The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles was selected by Bush as a destination point on her "Helping America's Youth" tour. The tour highlighted model youth programs that made a significant difference in the lives of young people. Subsequently, SCLA's Will Power to Youth program was invited to participate in the White House Conference for Helping America's Youth, as the Featured Lunchtime Presenter.
Ben Donenberg has performed as an actor on and off Broadway, in Central Park at the New York Shakespeare Festival's Delacorte Theater, on television and in film. He annually directs "Simply Shakespeare," a star-studded staged reading, hosted by Board Member Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, which benefits The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles.
In 2006, the United States Senate unanimously approved his Presidential appointment to a six-year term as a Member of the National Council on the Arts, overseeing the work of the National Endowment for the Arts. Donenberg is also featured in the National Endowments' award-winning inspirational documentary "Why Shakespeare?" which was distributed to more than 40,000 high schools throughout the country.
He has served as a National Juror for the Coming Up Taller Awards, under the auspices of The President's Committee for the Arts and the Humanities, a volunteer on the National Endowment for the Arts Theater Grant Panel and the Los Angeles County Performing Arts Commission's Theater Grant Panel. Mr. Donenberg holds a Bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Southern California and is a graduate of The Juilliard School's Drama Division.