The 29th production of Shakespeare on the Green is underway at University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). The annual summer event brings tens-of-thousands to the UNO campus, and is the flagship production of Shakespeare Nebraska’s year-round schedule of engagements.
For 16 years, UNO alumnus Vincent Carlson-Brown has worked with Shakespeare Nebraska with this marking his third year as the organization’s artistic director. Carlson-Brown received his Bachelor of Arts in Theatre in 2004 and is currently working on his Master of Arts in British Literature at UNO.
“Shakespeare wrote for a company of actors,” Carlson-Brown says. “He wrote each of his plays with a specific actor in mind to play each part. So I primarily look at two things when deciding which two plays will be performed: content and cast ability.”
In terms of content, Carlson-Brown likes to show off Shakespeare’s range of literary scope, selecting a comedy opposite a drama or a tragedy opposite a romance. While making his selection, he does so on the basis of the company’s demographics and numerical ability to perform both plays.
In the spirit of Shakespeare’s infinite interpretability, Carlson-Brown adds yet another dimension to his selection process: He looks for kindred plays connected by a common motif.
“For this year we’re talking about going from civilization to chaos or from community to isolation,” he says. “In Othello we go from a civilization (Venice) to an outpost where barbarism, jealousy and all these other tragic things are happening. In As You Like It, it’s a similar theme but it’s told with a positive light. We go from the court – where it’s a rigid, limiting, and structured part of society – to the forest where the characters get to explore things that were previously inaccessible to them. So the plays are thematically parallel to each other even though the content is drastically different.”
Carlson-Brown says when he got to UNO and became involved in Nebraska Shakespeare, theatre really began to materialize as something he wanted to pursue as a career. This interest in theatre and Shakespeare was compounded when he began choreographing fight scenes for the annual event.
“As a type, I’m the villain, I’m the fighter; I’m the one who gets in the way of the two lovers,” he says. “Getting involved with the fighting scenes of Shakespeare really peaked my passion, it was like being in sports again,” he said.
As the artistic director and out of an affinity for Shakespeare’s lesser-known works, Carlson-Brown developed another avenue of presenting Shakespeare called the Director’s Reading.
“Shakespeare has a large body of work, and often times these types festivals can adopt a narrow focus producing the twelve or so plays that they think are most popular,” he says. “I’m actually attracted to all his works and those of his works that are lesser known. It’s a low-risk way of introducing people to these more peripheral plays and creating a way to solicit feedback on the crowd’s desire to see them fully produced in the Shakespeare on the Green venue.”
Remaining Shakespeare on the Green performances are as follows:
“As You Like It” – July 2, & 5
“Othello” – July 3