Entertainment » Vol. 5

Shakespeare is for All of Us, So Don’t Miss the Experience

By Jack Neary

Ed Isser

Ed Isser

Vitality correspondent Jack Neary sat down and chatted with Edward Isser, Chair of the Department of Theatre at the College of Holy Cross and Artistic Director of Worcester’s Redfeather Theatre at Holy Cross.

JN: How long have you been teaching at Holy Cross? How long have you been Chair?

EI: I have been at Holy Cross twelve years and have served as Chair for the past three.

JN: Can you tell me a little about the Redfeather Theatre? Who founded it, and how it is affiliated with Holy Cross?

EI: Tim Smith, a local actor and a graduate of the conservatory at Trinity Repertory, founded Redfeather five years ago with seed money provided by Allen Fletcher. In the fall of 2005, I formed a partnership with Tim and we reconstituted the company as Redfeather at Holy Cross. The Department of Theatre at Holy Cross provides the company with a home; office and rehearsal space, costumes, a scene shop and assorted theatrical equipment. Redfeather provides our students with a fantastic apprentice program. The students are able to model the comportment of more seasoned actors both on and off stage, make connections in the local theatre community and gain valuable experience.

JN: Is Redfeather at Holy Cross focused exclusively on Shakespeare?

EI: To date we have limited ourselves exclusively to Shakespeare, but I see no reason why we would not expand our offerings in the future. Shakespeare makes huge technical demands upon actors and we now have a coterie of performers who are quite proficient.

JN: A little hot-button question….What is your response to anyone who might say you to, “Okay, enough Shakespeare…give us something new.”

EI: Wel,l first of all, have we had enough Shakespeare? And even more to the point, have we had enough Shakespeare in Central Massachusetts? Shakespeare is part of our shared cultural patrimony. We may have won our independence from Britain but we did not divorce ourselves from either the English language or culture. A familiarity with the works of Shakespeare has always been expected of an educated individual. But today we have rarified Shakespeare and made his work a kind cultural elitism. We have turned Shakespearean production into a snobbish type of tourism limited to Meccas, such as the Berkshires where the wine is chilled, the parking lot is filled with late model cars and ticket prices are steep. A primary goal of the Redfeather Theatre Company is to make the works of Shakespeare accessible — in every sense of that term — to the people of Central Massachusetts. First, we mount our productions in the Memorial Grove Amphitheatre in Green Hill Park – right smack in the middle of Worcester in a park bordering working-class neighborhoods. Second, we are a non-profit organization and offer heavily subsidized ticket prices. In addition to offering low priced admission, we distributed almost one thousand tickets gratis to a variety of civic groups, neighborhood organizations, shelters and senior citizen groups. And third, we mount productions that are fast-paced, approachable and exciting. We do shows that are appropriate for all members of the community — young and old.

JN: What are the future goals for Redfeather, and for you?

EI: Well, I have the greatest day job in the world — as Chair of the Theatre Department at Holy Cross — so my plans are to go to work tomorrow. But as far as Redfeather goes — I think it has a bright future. Worcester deserves to have a vibrant theatre community and the presence of a first-rate classical acting company is a part of that equation. We fill an important niche and the annual Worcester Shakespeare Festival is almost an institution at this point.

Visit www.redfeatherco.org and feel free to contact redfeather@holycross.edu with any questions.

Photo: Redfeather Theatre Company’s “Richard III” from summer 2007.

Edward Isser – photo by John Buckingham

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