Coming in March, The Baron's Men will be presenting the rarely performed THE CURATE SHAKESPEARE AS YOU LIKE at the Curtain Theatre. This unique piece of theatre is subtitled "the record of one company's attempt to perform the play by William Shakespeare." The piece came about when the playwright, Don Nigro, was asked by a professional theatre company to adapt AS YOU LIKE IT for performance by a company of seven. Mr. Nigro wrote an original play about a motly company of actors, led by a daft curate, who present Shakespeare's AS YOU LIKE IT. The result is a comedy about their attempts to impersonate all of Shakespeare's characters. The play has had numerous productions nationwide and has become a cult theater classic.

We recently had an opportunity to sit down with director Kate Clark for a deeper look at bringing this wholly unique piece to Austin audiences.

BWW: How did you first become aware of this script?
KC: I was working on a production of Doctor Faustus with the Baron's Men and our wonderful Beezlebub, Sara Blair, mentioned Don Nigro to me. I had never heard of him and she got really excited about introducing me to a new playwright so she brought in about ten of his plays and I immediately got overwhelmed and put them aside. Fast forward a few months and I was working on As You Like It, also with the Baron's Men. While taking a memorization break, I decided to flip through the plays and, of course, the one that caught my eye was The Curate Shakespeare As You Like It. Once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down and I've been crazy about it ever since. It's one of the funniest things I've ever read.

BWW: What makes this different from the Shakespeare script?
KC: About half of the script is lifted directly from As You Like It. The rest of the text is behind-the-scenes dialogue or what should be behind-the-scenes dialogue. One of the play's many unusual aspects is that the actors are all onstage the entire time, ostensibly performing Shakespeare, but actually doing a bunch of other things as well: arguing, studying their lines, even eating lunch. Another major difference between AYLI and The Curate Shakespeare As You Like It is cast size. AYLI has twenty-something characters in it so it's typically done with a large cast (we had 17 in the TBM production). Curate Shakes specifies 7 actors. That's it. And doing all those parts without enough actors makes for a lot of wonderful chaos and confusion.

BWW: What can you tell us about Mr. Nigro?
KC: He's something of an enigma. He's certainly prolific-at last count he'd written more than 300 plays-but it's possible that he is focused on quantity over quality. I only say this because I was so excited to read more of his work after falling in love with Curate Shakes so I picked up Cinderella Waltz and I thought it was ok. Then, being a huge fan of Mark Twain, I tried Further Adventures of Tom and Huck and I hated it. That was discouraging. But he has truly struck gold with Curate Shakes. And I've noticed that people find it funny regardless of their familiarity with As You Like It. There are certainly extra jokes for Shakespeare nerds but it's just a funny play all around. I think it's absolutely delightful.

BWW: Are there a series of these adaptations by Nigro or is this a standalone?
KC: It sounds like it's part of a series, doesn't it: The Curate Shakespeare As You Like It, The Curate Shakespeare Twelfth Night, etc. Alas, it is the only one.

BWW: What about it made you think about this as a production for the Baron's Men?
KC: The Baron's Men produced As You Like It last spring so I thought it would be interesting if this season included a tribute to that play. It's essentially a companion piece and I thought that would be neat for our regular attendees. I also like the idea of attracting newcomers, both to the cast and the audience. Curate Shakes was published in 1976 so it's outside the realm of the TBM charter. We basically squeaked it through based on the amount of actual Shakespeare text and the fact that we're advertising it as a special event. But I think doing a modern play that pays tribute to the Elizabethan era every once in a while is a good idea for the company, in terms of growth. The selfish reason I wanted to do this show with TBM is the space. The Curtain Theatre is the most beautiful place I've ever worked. It's been a dream to see the ideas I came up with in my living room coming to life on that stage.

BWW: I notice you have a dramaturg for the production. What exactly is his role and has he discovered anything unusual in his research?
KC: Robert Deike is our wonderful dramaturg. He was also our dramaturg for last year's As You Like It so I thought it was a good fit. In addition to providing the usual background information and historical context on the Shakespearean aspects of the play, he was tasked with helping me to discover the answer to a question that is not usually this difficult to discern: in what year was this play set? One source stated that the entire play is set in the 16th century and that's simply not the case. Nigro's word choices place it firmly in the 20th century, but the decade is actually very difficult to pin down. Robert, our superb assistant director, Diane Meo, and I ended up deciding that it is set in suspended time. But the audience can judge for itself.

BWW: When will this be staged and where?
KC: We open on March 1 and run every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening at 8 PM until March 17.

BWW: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?
KC: Working on this production has been a joy. It's just fun. Come take a break from the cares of the world for a night and let this incredible cast make you smile.

Produced by The Baron's Men
Thursday - Saturday March 01 - 17
The Curtain Theatre
7400 Coldwater Canyon Dr.
Austin, TX, 78730

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From This Author Frank Benge

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