Actors in residence at SVHS
SONOMA VALLEY HIGH SCHOOL students auditioned for smaller roles in the professionally produced Sonoma Valley Shakespeare Company’s inaugural theater season.
Public schools and acting troupes have one important thing in common – both strive for excellence while struggling against limited finances, time and staff. Sonoma Valley High School and the newly formed Sonoma Valley Shakespeare Company have found a way to support each other while simultaneously boosting arts education and the local theater scene.
The Shakespeare Company, launched by Sonoma native Aidan O’Reilly and a crew of actors he met while serving with the American Shakespeare Center, has been invited to work as artists-in-residence at the high school. The group will offer three shows this fall, “As You Like It,” “Julius Caesar” and “Doctor Faustus,” but the performers will also teach acting workshops for the drama students at the high school.
“I don’t think there are any other high schools that have actors in residence,” said Jane Martin, drama teacher at the high school. “We’re very excited to offer this to all of our wonderful students.”
Martin had the brainchild to bring the professional acting company into the high school when she learned the group hadn’t raised the money it needed to rent a theater space for its inaugural season. The Little Theater at Sonoma Valley High School isn’t often used at night during the fall months, as most of the student productions take place in the winter and spring. The school had a theater and desire to enhance theatrical education, while the Shakespeare Company needed a theater and wanted to work with aspiring actors – it was a match made in heaven.
“I kind of feel like they’ve given us the best Christmas present ever,” said O’Reilly, who is serving as the artistic director.
His partner, Managing Director Jocelynn Joy Murphy, added that it meant a lot to the company to work in O’Reilly’s hometown. “One of the most exciting things for me is seeing the kids who are from here get to work with Aidan (O’Reilly), who’s from here. They get to see what they can become from someone who’s already done it.”
Students will be included in every aspect of the process. A total of six students will be selected, through an audition process, to become the company’s interns, which includes an opportunity to perform in some of the play’s smaller roles. The student actors will also play under-study for a leading role, a part they’ll have the chance to perform during one matinee show. Students can also help on the crew with anything that interests them.
“They’ll be invited to get involved with any part of the production that they want,” O’Reilly said. “They can also sign on to shadow anyone in any aspect of the company.”
Martin said school officials, and the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation’s Teacher Support Network, were enthusiastic about bringing the company into the high school. Students began auditioning for roles last week, while the professional actors have been trickling in after wrapping up their summer festival season. The three shows will be performed in rotation between September and November.
“On certain weeks, if someone comes to the theater on Thursday, Friday and Saturday they can see a different show every night,” O’Reilly said. “It’s interesting for the audiences because they can come see the same actors in three different shows.”
The Shakespearian comedy, “As You Like It,” which O’Reilly will direct, opens the season with a preview on Thursday, Sept. 13, and continues Sept. 14, 15, 21, 22 and 29; Oct. 7, 14, 21; and Nov. 2. Throughout the entire season, shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday take place at 7:30 p.m.; while Sunday matinees are set at 2 p.m.
Chad Bradford steps into the director’s chair for Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” which opens on Thursday, Sept. 27, for a preview and runs Sept. 28; Oct. 5, 6, 13, 18, 20 and 25; and Nov. 2.
O’Reilly will resume the role of director for “Doctor Faustus,” a piece written by Shakespeare’s contemporary, Christopher Marlowe. The story follows a man determined to uncover the mysteries of the universe, even if it means selling his soul to the devil. The show opens for preview on Thursday, Oct. 11, and runs Oct. 12, 19 and 27, and Nov. 1. There will be a special midnight showing on Oct. 27 in addition to the 7:30 p.m. performance.
Each show will begin with live music from local musicians. Tickets are $10 for students, $15 for adults and must be purchased at the door.
O’Reilly hopes the company will grow into a union house where professional actors can earn equity hours for their work. Students could also earn hours toward their union membership by working with the company. The actors are working with Sonoma attorney Bob Smith to secure their nonprofit status, allowing them to fundraise for next year’s show.
“It’s the biggest gamble I’ve ever done,” O’Reilly said. “But it’s so worth it.”