Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival Memories & 15th Anniversary Wishes from the ISC Artists
I used to hear stories about the Independent Shakespeare Co. and particularly of one of it's founders, Melissa Chalsma, when I was in graduate school. Little did I know that our paths would eventually cross, recross and then slowly separate again.
I was fortunate enough to go to L.A .during the summer of 2006 to work with the famed Melissa and her brilliant husband, Mr. David Melville. I went there with our teacher Sanford Robbins. I was asked to play several parts in their production of As You Like It that summer and it remains one of the more magical times of my life. While my time on stage with them was indeed memorable ( this was when the festival was still at Barnsdall Park), it was their production of Hamlet that remains, in my mind, one of the best play I have ever seen.
Here’s the thing that really stood out to me: people were coming in droves to see these plays and enjoying them immensely. Not as some archaeological homage or some intellectual/cultural obligation, but as an honest to God evening of powerful meaningful storytelling as artfully wrought as you would see anywhere on earth. I mean this. I believe this.
I wanted to make Theatre with those people, I wanted to be part of them I wanted to be initiated into their tribe. I wanted to feel the love that was pouring back to the stage from the hungry audience in tenfold increments. I wanted more than anything in the world to be a Shakespearean actor and I wanted to be one with them. I can now say I was fortunate enough to be one for several glorious seasons. My time in the studio was family dinner, it was school it was the gym, it was church.
It was home.
Above all we created a community.
They still do it, the community grows and flourishes with each new production. I miss that. Being part of a community. If you’re reading or hearing this, hold on to what you have. As one who is away from it can attest: it’s not like that anywhere else.
Congratulations to ISC, and happy birthday.
Maybe your light shine forever.
My favorite ISC moment goes back to 2012 and dress rehearsal for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” There was a quiet family picnic by the bear caves and as rehearsal got underway, an adolescent boy was drawn from the picnic to our theater. Instantly immersed, he sat down very close to the stage. During verse sections of the play, his body pulsed to Shakespeare’s iambic beat. His mother came down and explained to Bernadette Sullivan that her son is a person with an intellectual disability. Bernadette handed her a flyer and said he was welcome to stay.
The boy remained until the very end of the play. He was alternately absorbed and convulsed as the Rude Mechanicals performed the comic play-within-a-play. Richard Azurdia portrayed “Snug the Joiner” as paralyzed with stage fright. “Snug” trembled with terror as he struggled to impersonate a ferocious lion. When the run-thru was over, the boy went up to Richard and said with deep sincerity: “Next time you must try to have more courage.”
I’ve never played before a more rewarding audience.
My favorite festival memory is getting to play across Lovelle Liquigan (who I would marry a few years later), in The Merry Wives of Windsor. We were the young lovers of the show, Anne Page and Fenton. Thank you to all the people who helped make these past 15 years possible..
Jocelyn Medawar, Dramaturg
My wish is for ISC to continue playing to their target audience: every single one of us. Anyone who has the glorious chance to hear “Love all, trust a few, Do wrong to none” in All’s Well That Ends Well can’t help but walk out of the theater a little wiser, a little more thoughtful, even if they don’t realize it.
So many favorite memories! Meeting Senator Harris backstage was a real treat. Also got a big hug from Laurence Fishburne last year. Inviting folks on stage to dance during The Two Gentlemen of Verona pre-show jam was a scream. Our Richard III act one finale with confetti, lights and music was always pure joy.
My wish is for another 15 years of free Shakespeare!
Some of my favorite festival memories are when we go out into the audience during intermission and get to interact with people. I got to meet some really cool people some of who have been coming to the festival for more than ten years, some first timers and some who are visiting LA. I love to hear what they think, how much they are enjoying the play, and a few have even given advice on how to stop the bad guys. I love that type of one-one conversation with the audience they really become part of the play.
My wish for the ISC's 15th anniversary is that we have 15 times the amount of audience, 15 times the amount of laughs, and 15 times the amount of joy.
Sabrina Lewis, House Manager & ISC Operations Coordinator
My favorite festival memory happened during an intermission last summer. The stage lights and audience lights briefly went out. Quick on their feet, the 2 Gents band struck up the first few bars of Stand By Me: "When the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we see." The band continued to play and the audience started singing along, turning on their phone flashlights to light pathways for others. From the stage, it was just a sea of lights: the phones, the moon, and the stars! What an incredibly beautiful moment. My birthday wish is that the festival inspires someone to pay it forward and create magic for someone else!