Arts and Culture

Shakespeare draws out-of-town talent for 'As You Like It'

First turn to comedy for Madison Shakespeare Co.

The name of the troupe is the Madison Shakespeare Company. The second and third words are pretty ironclad. But the first one’s a little more negotiable. Every one of MSC’s summer shows has featured at least one out-of-town cast or production crew member.

The company’s production of the Bard’s “As You Like It” (in its final weekend, June 8-11, at Edgewood College’s outdoor amphitheater) features at least three who make their permanent homes outside of Wisconsin’s capital city, including the show’s two main female stars. It turns out the chance to play Shakespeare is a powerful draw—more than enough to lure actors from their far-flung Wisconsin homes.

Take Bridget Christine Kelly, who’ll be playing Rosalind, the play’s heady heroine. Christine Kelly, who’s in the process of moving from Whitewater to New Glarus to start a new job at a bridal studio, is using the summer to complete her degree in theater performance and design online. “As You Like It” gives her a chance to reunite with director Emily Morrison Weeks. And sink her teeth into one of the Bard’s juiciest female roles.

“(Rosalind) is comparable to Hamlet in terms of female roles,” says Christine Kelly, who’s loved Shakespeare since the tender age of six. “The show is riding on her shoulders.”

Christine Kelly appreciates how human—and how resourceful—her character is. In the play, Rosalind ducks into the woods to masquerade as a male shepherd in order to get the lowdown on her love, Orlando.

“She’s riddled with having to come up with things on the fly,” she says.

Annalyse Lapajenko, who plays Celia, Rosalind’s best pal, is also a huge Shakespeare fan—so much so that she has a tattoo of the Bard’s cursive “S” and his quill on her inner ankle. Lapajenko, a University of Wisconsin–Madison sophomore, actually took out a month-long sublet to stick around town long enough to perform in the show. At 7 a.m. on the day after the show closes, she’ll be back in her native Milwaukee, leading a group of middle schoolers through a summer-camp production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

That’s dedication to the craft.

Lapajenko took a calculated risk during the show’s auditions. Her character is typically played as quiet and modest, more of a spectator to Rosalind’s actions than the author of her own.

“I’ve always wanted to see her be tough,” Lapajenko says. “So I amped up the confidence in my audition. That was exciting to make the character my own.”

Lapajenko’s been in Shakespeare productions in Milwaukee, but “As You like It” is her first non-tragedy. It’s also the first full-length Shakespeare comedy MSC has put on.

“It’s kind of nice to do a show where I don’t have to plunge a knife into my chest,” she quips.

It’s not just the stage actors who hail from out of town. Marie Freese, who lives in Dodgeville, responded to the show’s original casting call, but Morrison Weeks didn’t end up having a role for her. Instead, Freese lent her considerable creative talents—she holds a degree in theater performance and design from Viterbo University—to the show’s costume and prop design.

Working with MSC gives this self-described Shakespeare nerd an opportunity she doesn’t have in her hometown. And the experience has gone so well she’s signed on for MSC’s next production—a pair of July performances of “Sloshed Shakespeare: MacBeth,” a Bard-based romp that mashed actors from MSC’s 2016 production of the tragedy and elements of Comedy Central’s “Drunk History.” (The players will be performing while inebriated, with designated drivers standing by post production.)

“I didn’t know what to expect when I signed on, but MSC has been really welcoming,” says Freese. “Building relationships with theatre companies can be very hard. It doesn’t usually happen this quickly.”

Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning theater coverage for


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