Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival to feature two play adaptations

Update on Oct. 21, 2021: The November production of "Mac Beth" has been canceled.

The Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival this year will feature two productions that are adaptations of Shakespeare plays.

The two productions are a deviation from the customary one show with a guest actor, said James Bell, managing director of the Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival. Plans also call for outreach to K-12 students as well as short a short "green show" on campus to help promote the performances.

"Mac Beth," an adaptation by Erica Schmidt, is on tap first, with 7:30 p.m. performances on November 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13, along with a 2 p.m. matinee on November 14. The show will be in the Keller Black Box Theatre at the Haas Center for Performing Arts in Allendale.

This adaptation features seven school girls in a contemporary setting whose performance of the tragedy "Macbeth" blends into their realities.

The next show presented by the Shakespeare Festival will be in January, Bell said. That show, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," by Tom Stoppard is "a classic 'Hamlet' mashup featuring two side characters from 'Hamlet,' and he uses them as a way of critiquing theater, which is especially interesting after the pandemic," Bell said.

The building name on the outside of the Thomas J. and Marcia J. Haas Center for Performing Arts is framed by white flowers.
Image Credit: Amanda Pitts

He said presenting modern adaptations of Shakespeare plays presents an opportunity for a richer experience for both the student performers as well as the audience, especially if they are Shakespeare enthusiasts.

"To really appreciate this adaptation of 'Macbeth,' you need to know 'Macbeth,' and to get the jokes in 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,' it helps to know 'Hamlet,'" Bell said. 

For the director of "Mac Beth," this performance represents a swan song and a bit of a full circle. Karen Libman, professor of theater, is retiring this year and will direct the adaptation of the first play she ever directed at Grand Valley in 1999.

Libman said she was drawn to this adaptation and particularly enjoys working in its feminist setting; she noted that she delights in this production featuring all women as they interpret a play that in Shakespearean times featured only men.

She said longtime colleagues are working on the production, including Jill Hamilton on costumes and Al Sheffield, associate professor of theater,  on set design; Sheffield did the set design for Libman's first play.

A 360-degree image of the Keller Black Box Theatre
The shows are scheduled for the Keller Black Box Theatre.
Image Credit: Elizabeth Lienau

"I’m sure I’ll be nostalgic," Libman said. "I’m always very sentimental about a production when working on it. It's always my favorite and I'm always so attached to the student actors."

Both Bell and Libman said the necessary contingencies are in place if the pandemic forces distancing protocols, including possible livestream options of a live performance.

Plans also call for matinee performances to reach K-12 students as well as bringing the Bard to Go program back to area schools, Bell said.