Sept. 15 2010 12:00 AM

New troupe takes Shakespeare back to original finish


Just as old-school Cub fans never got used to night games at Wrigley Field, there are Shakespeareans out there who still haven’t cottoned to the Shakespeare in the dark.

In true Elizabethan spirit, the Bach Dor Shakespeare Company, whose first production opens this week, plans to bring “original practice” Shakespeare to modern Lansing. That means "doing it with the lights on," according to director and founder Randy Matthews — "even the house lights." Props will be minimal and no electronic instruments or sound effects will be used. What is more, there will be no "fourth wall" separating actors and audience.

Matthews explained that much of Shakespeare’s dialogue was directed at the audience. Restoring that practice, he said, will involve modern audiences in a way they may not be accustomed to.

There will even be music before and after the performance. Only the bear baiting has been left out.

Bach Dor features 13 local actors, including Matthews. Their first foray into Shakespeare au naturel will be the Bard’s timeless battle of the sexes, “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Matthews first envisioned the group three years ago, and has been working to get it started over the last year. Matthews himself has been an actor since he was 20 years old, and was a member of the National Shakespeare Conservatory. He retired when he became a father, though, only returning to the stage four years ago, when he decided he wanted to do Shakespeare full time.

Matthews said the goal is to strip away the trappings of centuries and get back to pure poetry.

“I like doing original practice work with Shakespeare,” Matthews said, “because when you strip away all the sets and light cues what you’re left with is Shakespeare’s poetry. It really comes alive.”

According to Matthews, there are only three other troupes in the U.S. that perform in the original practice tradition. However, Matthews said he thinks Lansing is ready for the experience.

“Shakespeare is a select audience,” Matthews said, “and we’re trying to bring it in a way audiences can relate to.”