Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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Creative Cast Helps Bring Shakespeare to the Masses

by Aliyah Walker, Vineyard Gazette

Shakespeare for the Masses is typically an off-season, indoor production. This summer, however, the troupe of intrepid actors and Shakespeare experts have taken their show outside and on the road.

In collaboration with the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, the show is performed at the Tisbury Amphitheatre on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. It also pops up at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, Featherstone Center for the Arts and the Vineyard Drive-In.

But despite the venue shifts, the core message from 13 seasons remains the same: “Quick & Painless & Free!”

This summer’s show is Macbeth, trimmed down to about an hour, so audiences get all the goodies in a third of the time.Double double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“We sort of developed a loyal following over the years, where people would know that it’s coming so they’d either read the book or they read the Cliff Notes,” said Amy Barrow, who stars as Lady Macbeth. Ms. Barrow said the show is for everyone, from those who love Shakespeare to those just getting to know the bard.

“It really is a celebration of the language, but it’s presented in a format where even if you’re a Shakespearean scholar you can enjoy it, and if you’re brand new to Shakespeare it really sort of decodes it for you,” she said. “Because Shakespeare is meant to be performed not read.”

The productions are always looking to help ease the way.

“It’s based on actual political and historical events,” Ms. Barrow said. “It can be really weighty, there’s a lot of characters that we just wouldn’t know and there’s a lot of references that modern day audiences wouldn’t know, so there is a narrator that pops in every once in a while to explain.”

During the narration actors walk the audience through the play while also making jokes.Humor fuels many a production. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“In addition to witches and darkness and murder, there’s a lot of humor,” Ms. Barrow said.

Shakespeare for the Masses was founded in 2008 by Nicole Galland and Chelsea McCarthy. Since then there have been over 40 shows performed at Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse and other venues around the Island. MJ Bruder Munafo, artistic and executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, noted that the humor and tongue-in-cheek nature are also connected in a timely way to current political landscapes.

“I mean this is why Shakespeare is still so relevant because we can always find a correlation in modern times, whatever modern times we happen to be in,” Ms. Munafo said.

“This time, it’s even crazier or zanier because six people are playing all the roles instead of usual 12,” Ms. Munafo added. “I think it’s a lot of fun for them, you can tell from the minute everybody walks on the stage that each actor in Shakespeare for the Masses is 1,000 per cent committed . . . to the work. “We love what Chelsea and Nikki have done with Shakespeare and so many of the players and the actors that have been in it. Most of them are part of our . . . playhouse family.”

Due to the pandemic, the playhouse had to cancel its indoor season. In addition to Shakespeare for the Masses, playhouse productions this summer at the Tisbury Amphitheatre include the Fabulists every Saturday morning and an extended run of Every Brilliant Thing, starring Scott Barrow.

Finding a way to do live theater again has been key, Ms. Barrow said.

“It’s been really wonderful for us, I think a lot of us were nervous to see how the return to live theatre was going to be,” she said. “The reception has been really warm, the crowds have been great and respectful, which is nice. I think for everybody who has basically not been able to work for almost two years now, it was great to get out and use those muscles again.

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