Behind the Scenes of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged”

Macey Renzin, Contributing Writer

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged,” the Fall play at Hastings High School, was directed by Rachel Wineberg and produced by Gerard Marciano, with Gillian Husovsky as the technical director. Stage manager Maya Tadmor and assistant director Elianna Carvalho also took on big responsibilities to keep this play on track. With a cast of just under thirty students and only an hour-and-a-half to cram in all the works of Shakespeare, this production was no small feat.

For senior actor Celia Silverstien, leaving the school’s auditorium for the courtyard was disappointing. Still, she was able to find the bright side in acting on a makeshift outside stage. “If you look at it as not being what a normal experience would be, it sets you up for disappointment. So I’ve just been rolling with it, and seeing how I can learn from being outside.” Though her last play in Hastings might not exactly match up to her freshman self’s expectations, she looked forward to it nonetheless. Celia played one of the narrators in the show. “It’s very, very creative, and I love how Rachel is letting us use our own imaginations and invent parts of it, and just really turn it into our own,” she said.

Current high school freshman Kai Dirksen was excited about being in their first high school production. “Just being in the show feels amazing,” they said, “because I know I’ve come so far from the middle school and elementary school productions. As a freshman I am surrounded by older people who are a lot better at acting than me, and who have a lot more experience, so I’m picking up so much more. In high school, you can perfect things that you wouldn’t have been able to in middle school, and I think that’s super cool.” Kai starred in the Macbeth skit as well as some of the other tragedies.

Putting together an outdoor show was definitely a challenge for the tech crew of only twenty kids, according to Tech Director Gillian Husovsky. “We have to create a theatrical home outside where there isn’t one,” she said. “Being able to be outside is wonderful so that we can be without masks and out in the fresh air, but the daylight is going to be very limited for the play and only get more so as we get into October and November.”
This is why both shows were performed as a matinee. In addition to the usual hectic quick changes, scene transitions, and props, tech had to deal with the ever-changing weather. “There is no tent, there’s no protection if it rains. Wind plays a big element with costumes, with paper props blowing away,” Ms. Husovsky said. There are some benefits, however, to working an unconventional show. “It’s all out in the open for the audience to see. It’s a fun experience because maybe tech parents get to see their kids doing their jobs when they normally wouldn’t if they were backstage.”

For Ms. Wineberg, this has also been an interesting experience—this same play was performed at Hastings eight years ago. So much has happened nationally in the past few years, so the skits were updated to suit current sensibilities. “In the past eight years things like the #MeToo Movement have happened, and we have become much more aware of things like systemic racism,” said Ms. Wineberg. Specifically, the skit Othello, which is about a Black man who marries a white woman, works differently now than in the past. “The big joke is that there are a bunch of white guys doing this rap about Othello. There was a lot more questioning now of, ‘is it okay to do this piece? Is it okay for white actors who are saying it’s ridiculous for white people to be doing rap, to in fact do the rap themselves?’ We think some of these things are new issues, but it was present 500 years ago in Shakespeare,” she said.

All of these questions have created a thoughtful environment for both the cast and crew.
For everyone involved in the play, just being able to be together in person has felt like a luxury. Ms. Wineberg mentioned how she specifically chose a comedy because she felt that everyone needed a bit of a laugh.
“It is so healing to be in these rehearsals where everybody is just laughing and smiling and having a great time,” concluded Ms. Wineberg. “When you can find the comedy, you can make the transformation to get through the hard time.”