Covid presented a lot of challenges for area actors. Take Christin Goff. She’d been coaching some actors in monologues in the spring of 2022 and was planning a class for the summer. “We had to shift to online, both for coaching and classes,” said Goff recently. “From there, we expanded and began to do readings of plays to stay involved socially and with Shakespeare’s texts and plays.”

When restrictions loosened, Goff and a few of her regular performers decided to record selected scenes to post online. “Eventually, I came up with a name and a logo so it was more official,” said Goff. And the Rhode Island Shakespeare Rep was born.

Goff will wrap up her Master of Arts pursuit in September in Shakespeare and Education. The co-founders of RISR believed that staying connected in a “teaching and learning” way related to performing Shakespeare would help hone acting skills for other forms of drama and other art forms as well.

In the spring, the group decided it was time for an actual live performance. RISR will produce A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM this weekend (August 12, 13, and 14) on the grounds of the John Brown House in Providence. “MIDSUMMER is a popular Shakespeare comedy. I didn’t realize it was that popular this year, but the more, the merrier!”

This past spring, at least two other companies produced MIDSUMMER: The Gamm Theatre in Warwick (a show in which yours truly performed as Snout/The Wall) and Applause Academy in Taunton. “Our production will be unique in several ways. We are doubling the Lovers roles and the Mechanicals roles, allowing actors to showcase their fabulous character-creation chops.” Goff is also swapping lines between Titania and Oberon, the queen and king of the fairies, “making some of the love juice scenes somewhat unexpected.”

Goff has studied with the Royal Shakespeare Company and picked up a form of active learning called Rehearsal Room Pedagogy. “I use this methodology frequently. Our shows are constructed utilizing cast-based ideas, skills, culture, and background to create a wholly unique work.” In this way, the direction of the play is a group effort. For MIDSUMMER, Goff is director and producer “but I asked for input, feedback, accepted new ideas, and even criticism. That way the actors have a true connection with the work because they helped create it.”

RISR chose the outdoor venue “so people won’t be afraid to come during Covid.” The John Brown House has other summer entertainment offerings, “so we thought to ride the coattails of those presentations,” says Goff. The spot is shady and accessible and actor-friendly – “apart from the occasional wasp or motorcycle driver.”

RISR plans to continue recording Shakespeare scenes to post to YouTube. They are working with the Providence Public Library to present a Shakespeare Showcase in October “to help reach young people as well as provide additional experiences for students and their teachers.” All area theaters that perform Shakespeare or classical texts are invited to send actor-delegates to perform monologues.

Goff is serious about her Shakespeare. “Working to perform Shakespeare’s text well is a skill set that goes far to support many other areas of our lives,” she says. “In addition to the obvious language gains, it helps us work on listening, breath and body awareness, emotions, memorization, stage presence, voice, imagination, and power. I absolutely love training students – anyone, really – to perform Shakespeare and helping them learn to unleash their inner actor.”

Rhode Island Shakespeare Rep presents A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 6PM. For complete details, visit their Facebook event page.

Frank O'Donnell

Frank O’Donnell has worn many different hats. As an actor, he’s performed in three professional theatrical productions and countless community theater productions. He’s written, produced and directed four holiday-themed shows and once helmed the Notfanuttin’ Players, specializing in audience-participation dinner shows. He’s been performing as a stand-up comedian since 1982 and has been inducted into the RI Comedy Hall of Fame. He’s written comedy for other performers, like Bob Hope, Jay Leno and Joe Piscopo. He’s opened for performers as diverse as the Judds, Michael Bolton, Chicago, David Brenner, Gilbert Gottfried and more. He’s been writing reviews and features about theater in Rhode Island for better than two decades. His work to help save the monarch butterfly has been chronicled on NBC Nightly News and he is president of the Keri Anne O’Donnell Memorial Fund. A native of Providence and long-time resident of North Providence, Frank now calls Jamestown home. He and his wife Karen – who he met when both were students at Classical High School – have four children, and recently became grandparents.