The festival begins with Fletcher and Massinger’s The Sea Voyage at 7:30 p.m., continues with Shakespeare’s masterpieces The Tempest at 2 p.m. and King Lear at 7:30 p.m. April 1, and concludes with two of The Bard’s most loved plays, The Comedy of Errors at 2 p.m., and As You Like It at 7:30 p.m. April 2.
The plays range from farcical, with The Comedy of Errors, to tragic in King Lear. The festival is the culmination of this year’s new Master of Fine Arts (MFA) model for Roving Shakespeare, the unique graduate company that combines students’ diverse regional backgrounds and shared knowledge of early modern theatre to bring the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries to available audiences.
Roving Shakespeare approached each show with different theatrical styles in mind to fulfill the production demands provided by the MFA program faculty. The company traveled across Virginia to present The Comedy of Errors as a touring educational show, with a 45-minute production provided to match the needs of schools. The Tempest and The Sea Voyage — the season’s “extreme casting” shows — challenged five actors to perform all characters and scenic effects. King Lear used Renaissance-style conditions, with a shortened rehearsal period and no director or designers. MFA faculty member and professional actor Matt Davies guest stars as the beleaguered Lear. Finally, As You Like It was the only production designed specifically for the Blackfriars Playhouse, using differing aspects of the space to provide a more effective performance.
All performances are “pay-as-you-like-it.” The Comedy of Errors runs 45 minutes. All other productions run at or just a bit longer than two hours. Roving Shakespeare’s final bow comes with this festival, which marks the finale of a yearlong program, in which members were trained in company dynamics, as well as acting, directing, marketing, stage design, and other diverse aspects of stagecraft.