BWW Interview: Jerry Ferraccio, Director of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at Santa Fe Shakespeare Society
Jerry Ferraccio, coordinator of Santa Fe Shakespeare Society, is aware it might be a unique idea to have Shakespeare's works be completely accessible to the public rather than considered to be an elite form of the arts. However, he believes that it is more in line with how Shakespeare's works were originally portrayed at The Globe Theatre in London, England. While Shakespeare is certainly something that can be considered art, performances back in the playwrights' time were, according to Ferraccio, "one step away from doing a production in a bar."
While the Santa Fe Shakespeare Society's productions are not performed in a bar, they have been able to "make Shakespeare accessible to everyone, not just adults or those people who are stuck in a book." Ferraccio stated that the key to making this happen is to make each production for the community. Hopefully, this will in turn ensure that everyone feels welcome attending. To do this, Ferraccio and the rest of the society have tried to make Shakespeare accessible, without leaving the audience feeling as though Shakespeare is beyond them because they aren't Shakespearean scholars. Accomplishing this includes having a cast that completely understands their characters and what Shakespeare has written. This will in turn give the audience clarity on stage rather than leaving them with the ambiguity that can often be seen in Shakespeare's works. Doing this allows the audience to "find the ambiguity in the production, not how it's performed", which Ferraccio feels is essential to make Shakespeare understood by all. Ferraccio mentioned that after his productions he has had audience members come up and ask him if there was any editing or modernizing to what Shakespeare had written to make it more easily understood. Aside from minor editing to remove jokes that are no longer considered humorous in modern times, there is no editing done to the works; they are primarily performed as they were written. To Ferraccio, having people believe the text has been modernized means he has accomplished his task of giving everyone who wants to experience Shakespeare an opportunity to.
In addition to making Shakespeare's works accessible by ensuring it can be easily comprehended no matter what the audience, the Santa Fe Shakespeare Society also brings Shakespeare to the community of Santa Fe itself. This includes creating a moveable stage that is reminiscent of The Globe Theatre that has removeable parts which can be taken with the group no matter where they perform, having an impromptu Shakespeare performance in a cancer ward, and going to retirement homes to read and perform Shakespeare for the residents. In addition to this, Ferraccio and the rest of the society have encouraged diversity in casting in order to ensure a reflection of the community that Santa Fe has to offer, as seen by a cast that ranges from an 11-year-old cast member to a woman in her 80's. Ferraccio stated that anyone who is right for the role is cast, no matter ethnicity or gender. He had expressed a desire to have a male nurse cast when the society performed Romeo and Juliet, but was only unable to do so only because no men auditioned for the role. Their current production of Much Ado About Nothing has several actors with disabilities in the cast, and Ferraccio is happy to have them performing with the rest of the actors, making whatever accommodations are necessary.
Another way in which Shakespeare is brought to the public is the monthly readings of Shakespeare's works conducted by the society, wherein various versions of the plays are studied and examined by anyone who wishes to attend. The group spent the past year reading through several versions of Hamlet to explore the work in more detail. Ferraccio and the rest of the Santa Fe Shakespeare society also rely on donations (either monetary or volunteering for the productions) from members of the community rather than charging admission to the shows. According to Ferraccio, this creates an "agreement and changes the energy between the audience and the actors."
Ferraccio believes that this energy and interaction between the audience and actors of a production is one of the keys to a successful production of Shakespeare's works and "harkens back to how Shakespeare must have done it." An example Ferraccio gave of this was a production during which an audience member hissed at the lead villain, creating a dynamic between the actor and the audience for the remainder of the play. Ferraccio also believes that audience members should be able to take pictures and post things on social media as long as they aren't disturbing other people in the audience or the actors. This connection is another reason why a majority of the productions have been outside. Ferraccio believes this is "as close to Shakespeare as it can get" because during Shakespeare's time, the audience "couldn't get away from nature." To Ferraccio, all of this helps to create a stronger connection. Ferraccio stated that one of his favorite things about having the plays performed outside is the "spontaneous moments that arose from Shakespeare's words" and the the exchange and response between nature and the audience. An example of this was during a production of The Tempest where a rainbow appeared over the stage near the end of the production, something that made a majority of the audience cry.
The current season of Santa Fe's Summer Shakespeare has given the society a chance to come full circle. When the Society was reformed seven years ago, they staged a two weekend production of Much Ado About Nothing. When deciding on which of Shakespeare's plays to perform, the society voted to revisit their first production in order to "bring new life to it", as the world of 2017 is different than it had been when Much Ado About Nothing was originally performed. One of the reasons why Ferraccio wanted Much Ado About Nothing to be the play chosen for Summer Shakespeare is that no one has the bulk of the lines. This ensures that every participant in the play, no matter if they are one of the leads or a secondary character, has "a chance to shine and create a meaningful experience."
Next for the Santa Fe Shakespeare Society is a production of Titus Andronicus, which is thought to be one of Shakespeare's first tragedies, and is Shakespeare's version of the revenge plays of his contemporaries. Because of the horrific nature of the tragedy, Titus Andronicus will be the first production staged indoors, allowing the cast and director to walk the "fine line of artistry" as they create a production that "brings people to the brink of a cliff while holding the back of their shirt as they lean over to the abyss without pushing them over it." For Ferraccio, who will serve as director of this production, there is a need to create a safe space for both the audience and the actors while the tragedy of a majority of the characters being s "victim of their own limitations" is explored.
Much Ado About Nothing runs until August 13th. Titus Andronicus will run from "the end of September through the first weekend of October". Auditions will be held on August 5th. More information can be found at the Santa Fe Shakespeare Society's website at: http://sfshakespeare.com/.
Photo credit: Santa Fe Shakespeare Society