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BWW Interview: Ed Nahhat & Lynch Travis Talk the Return of Theatre in the Park with A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at SRO!

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20th anniversary production of Shakespeare Royal Oak is the return of live theatre in MI!

BWW Interview: Ed Nahhat & Lynch Travis Talk the Return of Theatre in the Park with A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at SRO!
L to R: Maurizio Rosas Domingue,
Craig Ester & Margaret Alger
appear as Philostrate, Theseus, and Hippolyta.
Photo Credit: Shakespeare Royal Oak

Shakespeare Royal Oak is celebrating its 20th season of outdoor professional theatre with A Midsummer Night's Dream. One of the Bard's beloved comedies that opened the company's premier season back in 2001 is playing this weekend, August 5th-8th, under the stars at Jaycee Park in Royal Oak. BroadwayWorld Detroit was delighted to speak with Executive Director of the SRO, Ed Nahhat about how thrilling it is to have theatre in the park again and Director Lynch Travis about his plans vision for the show.

Can you give our readers a brief background of yourself and then your theatre career as an introduction?

Ed Nahhat: I'm a lifelong Royal Oaker, an attorney with Kemp Klein Law Firm, with a background in professional theatre and special event management. I come from a big family that loved to perform together, so I've had a knack for shows since forever, from summer camp, to high school, to even talent shows in law school. After my BFA at Wayne, I earned my Equity card the hard way in a long slog as a candidate, acting with Milwaukee Rep, Detroit Rep and the old Attic Theatre back in the day. When I began my law practice, I continued to work in films and onstage with the Purple Rose and others. Directing, writing, acting. I worked my way through law school as an event manager on Detroit's Hart Plaza and the Thanksgiving Parade among others. I also coached high school drama for many years. So, it seemed like a perfect way to join up my different careers and skills to start a new Shakespeare festival in a park in my hometown in 2001, adding the education programs in 2002.

Lynch Travis: I am a native of Chicago, transplanted to Detroit some 35 plus years ago in pursuit of corporate goals, a father of two and grandparent of two. My theatre career began as a person seeking to broaden my social life. After college and having secured a job that involved intensive travel, I had a 15-year gap between my last college play and my first non-college play. For 20 years or so, I was a full-time health care benefits professional and a part-time professional actor and director. In 2012, I left my corporate job and entered the gig worker world. I have freelanced as a theatre director and actor in a number of different venues and found artistic homes at the Detroit Repertory Theatre as a stage director and heading their Actors Workshop Program as well as at the Purple Rose Theatre where I am a Resident Artist and Consulting Chief Diversity and Inclusion Outreach Officer. I'm also currently a Board Member of the Jewish Ensemble Theatre Company. I have Actors Equity Association acting credits at Meadowbrook Theatre, Performance Network Theatre, Williamston Theatre, Detroit Public Theatre, Plowshares Theatre, The Purple Rose Theatre, Jewish Ensemble Theatre, University of Michigan Center For Research Learning and Teaching Applied Theatre Company. I also have Equity directing credits at The Detroit Rep, Performance Network The Purple Rose and Jewish Ensemble Theatre. I've also performed and directed in a host of non-union productions across Southeastern Michigan, including Wayne State University, Blackbird Theatre Company and University of Detroit Theatre Company. This is my first time directing for Shakespeare Royal Oak.

Describe your vision for the show in five words:

BWW Interview: Ed Nahhat & Lynch Travis Talk the Return of Theatre in the Park with A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at SRO!
L to R: CJ Williams & Justin Montgomery
appear as Helena and Demetrius.
Photo Credit: Shakespeare Royal Oak

Lynch Travis: The Summer of Love Beckons

As the Executive Director of Shakespeare Royal Oak, how does it feel to finally have a production coming back to the park this year?

Ed Nahhat: it really going to work? Tell me it's going to work.

How does it feel to be bringing theatre back through directing the show at the park after there was such a theatre hiatus from the pandemic?

Lynch Travis: It's an incredible feeling, being back in an actual playing space with people! Like a lot of us, I adapted to readings and teaching and performing on virtual platforms like Zoom. I learned a lot, accomplished a lot, but it's not the same thing. It's a bit daunting too, because we were away for what seemed to be so long. It also feels really good to know that among the goal's SRO set was a renewed commitment to reach out and be as inclusive and diverse as possible in casting this show. When 90 plus actors registered for virtual auditions I was a little overwhelmed and thankful that we had such a deep well of talent, mostly local so that we could achieve that goal. It's exciting to be in room of Shakespearean actors from all walks of life, and that is truly reflective of the community at large.

What is the rehearsal process like amid safety precautions since the pandemic?

Lynch Travis: We've planned and prepared so that we are able to meet or exceed industry standards for health and safety measures. We fortunately have a fully vaccinated cast, but even still we are doing things like having a pre-rehearsal health check-in procedure, practicing social distancing while off stage, and masking while traversing through the building. The company hired a really talented health and safety specialist, and we are following the directives laid out in that plan, to make sure we get to the stage healthy.

BWW Interview: Ed Nahhat & Lynch Travis Talk the Return of Theatre in the Park with A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at SRO!
Craig Ester and Margaret Alger
appear as Theseus and Hippolyta.
Photo Credit: Shakespeare Royal Oak

If you had to describe A Midsummer Night's Dream to both Shakespeare aficionados and novices alike in your own words, what would you say?

Lynch Travis: It is a very funny, well written play about people trying to unravel that old mystery of "True Love." One of the best pieces written by the most well-known playwright in the Western Canon.

What makes Shakespeare Royal Oak's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream special?

Ed Nahhat: I acted in Midsummer on the old Bonstelle stage, when the legendary Leonard Leone of the Wayne theatre department said, "that if you're going to start a Shakespeare company, start with Midsummer." And that's exactly what we did, in 2001, with the help of some important mentors like Hilberry Director Tony Schmitt and his wife Jan, a marketing genius. That first year's magic had never left me, so I decided to do it again this year to celebrate our 20th season.

What would you say makes A Midsummer Night's Dream stand out from other productions since it is such a well-known piece of theatre?

Lynch Travis: For one, we can usually all identify with affairs of the heart. Secondly, the Bard embraces theatricality with his use of the contrasting social strata's in the play: The Royals, The Mechanicals (commoners) and the ever-present magic folks with the Fairies. We have love in the air, some peeved lovers and a dose of magic: what could possibly go wrong? Or maybe, we can readily identify with the bawdiness in the writing and for some, just enjoy the fun being poked at towards people that are like the people we know. When I was asked about a concept for the play, I though this reminds me so much of the Woodstock Era, the era of my own coming of age. We got the straitlaced Royals, the counterculture Fairies and the common man in the middle. Drugs, sex, rock n roll? That always plays.

Now that theatre is able to return, what does the plan for Shakespeare Royal Oak look like as we hopefully move toward the goal post-pandemic lifestyle?

Ed Nahhat: This generation will always have the 2020 shut down. We'll never lose it completely. Shakespeare himself had plagues that shut his theatre down. So for theatre to transform we need to be together. In the same space, hearing and feeling the same live expression. Zoom doesn't cut it. And we all know it. SRO wants to bring us all back together, live, in a beautiful place, and in the same moment. Safely. Whatever that takes.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is currently running until August 8th at Starr Jaycee Park in Royal Oak. Tickets and more information are available at shakespeareroyaloak.com.

Connect with Shakespeare Royal Oak on Facebook at facebook.come/shakespeareroyaloak and on Twitter at @WWTheatreCo.

Connect with Lynch Travis at www.lynchtravis.com where you can find all his social media links.


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