Re-interpreting Shakespeare

<p>Antony, played by Michael John Improta, a second year BFA acting major, is torn between his love for Egyptian queen Cleopatra and his duties as a loyal Roman soldier. Photo by Jessica Tommaselli</p>
Antony, played by Michael John Improta, is torn between his love for Egyptian queen Cleopatra, played by Molly Martinez, and his duties as a loyal Roman soldier in a student production of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Photos by Jessica Tommaselli

Shakespeare might have called it fate.

When Grace Alpert and Seth Koproski met during an information session for potential University Scholars, they immediately hit it off. Alpert, from Guilford, is a ‘behind the scenes’ type, with an eye on a career in theater production management. Koproski, a Wilton native, is a born actor with plans for a career that will put him in front of an audience. Together, they make a formidable team. The proof is in their recently concluded production of the Bard’s classic drama Antony & Cleopatra, which was performed in the Mobius Theater Dec. 8, 9, and 10.

Both Alpert ’10, a theater studies major, and Koproski ’11, an acting and English double major, love all aspects of the performing arts. When they were selected to participate in the University Scholar program, which allows students to design plans of study geared toward their special interests, it was natural that they would both gravitate towards areas of performance. What set them apart from their fellow students, however, is that they decided to pool their talents in order to collaborate on their University Scholar/Honors Scholar thesis project.

Koproski says, “Theater is always a collaborative process, so generally it isn’t one person alone. When Grace and I met, I realized that with her help I would be able to make the show a lot bigger than I could doing it by myself. Together we were able to push the boundaries on what I might have been able to do alone.”

<p>One of Shakespeare's best known tragedies, Antony & Cleopatra combines a classic love story with political intrigue and acts of deception. Photo by Jessica Tommaselli</p>
One of Shakespeare's best known tragedies, Antony & Cleopatra combines a classic love story with political intrigue and acts of deception.

The result of ‘pushing boundaries’ was the Department of Fine Arts “D” series production of Antony & Cleopatra that recently played to enthusiastic audiences. As a student production, every aspect of the play, from budgeting, fund raising, and advertising to costume, set, and lighting design, casting, and scheduling rehearsals, was the sole responsibility of Alpert and Koproski. Every role, both on and behind stage, was filled by students recruited for the project. Some of them had experience in theater as Fine Arts majors. To others, it was an entirely new experience.

Alpert admits she had things to learn. “I’m a micro-manager, so the fact that I’ve had to step back and trust my designers … trust that they’d stay on budget and get everything done on time … was hard for me.” She smiles when she says, “Believe me, I’ve learned a lot and have definitely matured.”

One of her advisers was Lawrence Gramling, assistant professor of accounting in the School of Business. Despite Alpert’s claim about being nervous when learning to manage the financial aspects of her project, he says, “Grace was absolutely unflappable. I think she has a really bright future in the arts, and she will continue to be the glue that holds projects together. She now has a real understanding of the business side of theater production that will serve her well.”

<p>The notorious pirate Sextus Pompey, played by second year BFA acting major Shane Tyler Harris, is watched by his crew as he rails against Octavian and Lepidus who have broken their truce with him. Photo by Jessica Tommaselli</p>
The notorious pirate Sextus Pompey, played by Shane Tyler Harris, is watched by his crew as he rails against Octavian and Lepidus, who have broken their truce with him.

For Koproski, one of the challenges of producing a Shakespearean play was to make it relevant to a predominantly college-age audience. “I love Shakespeare,” he says. “I love the language, and how sweeping and epic a lot of his work is. The problem is that his plays are so often treated in a really academic fashion. I heard a great line about everyone being bored in the audience except for scholars sitting there, confirming their pet theories and mouthing their favorite lines. That’s exactly what I didn’t want from our production.”

One of the reasons for choosing Antony & Cleopatra, he says, is that the entire play moves between the two locations of Egypt and Rome, and Antony is torn between them. “He’s a Roman soldier who falls in love with an Egyptian queen. There’s this whole interplay between the two places and having to choose between taking responsibility and having fun. I just figured that if this story resonates with me, it would play really well on campus.”

While not tampering with Shakespeare’s text, Alpert and Koproski modernized their production through the use of costume and production surprises. Romans were dressed in business suits instead of togas. The pirate, Pompey, was a tough guy wearing a leather jacket. And the use of shadow puppets provided unconventional scenic elements.

<p>Mortally wounded by his own hand, Antony lies dying in the arms of his queen. Cleopatra will soon follow and Octavian, first Emperor of Rome, will declare that they be buried side by side. Photo by Jessica Tommaselli</p>
Mortally wounded by his own hand, Antony lies dying in the arms of his queen. Cleopatra will soon follow and Octavian, first Emperor of Rome, will declare that they be buried side by side.

Bart Roccoberton, director of the Puppet Arts Program in the School of Fine Arts and one of Koproski’s advisors, said, “It’s a pleasure to work with students like Seth and Grace. They’re creative, intelligent, and self-driven. Their teamwork in the development of Antony & Cleopatra has been inspiring to both students and faculty.”

Alpert summed up the experience from her perspective: “I can say every single person involved in this production went above and beyond what was expected of them. This was the case simply because they all were part of a family that was passionate about creating a story. I’m leaving the Department of Dramatic Arts with a smile … so very proud of everyone … and under budget!”

With the completion of the production, Alpert, who will graduate this month, is headed for Los Angeles, where she has a position waiting for her as talent coordinator for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Golden Globes Awards ceremony.

Koproski will spend his final semester in London as part of UConn’s Study Abroad program. After that he has his sights set on New York City, where he hopes to start his professional acting career.