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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Davis Shakespeare Ensemble’s ‘Nightingale’

After performing its current production, Nightingale, in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble (DSE) will be performing an expanded version of the same production in Davis in April and in the San Francisco Fringe Festival in September.

Dedicated to the translation of classic texts into dramatic productions within a contemporary framework, the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble produces original renditions of two Shakespeare plays and one other classic text per season. The current production, Nightingale, is inspired by the medieval French narrative poem “Laüstic” by Marie de France.

At midnight of March 4, the 20-minute Nightingale production was performed as a part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Midnight Projects series. DSE’s Artistic Directors Gia Battista and Rob Salas co-wrote and directed the production in the exciting environment of one of the largest and oldest theater arts organizations in the nation.

“It was exciting to perform in the Midnight Projects series because of the fast-paced, collaborative nature of preparing for the show,” Battista said. “We had actors from the festival work with us, and a lot of the writing, directing, and staging was formulated on the spot and in a collaborative manner with members of the team. We rehearsed up until midnight, and everything came together at show time, completely surpassing our expectations.”

As an assistant director of a production of As You Like It in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Salas encountered the opportunity to produce DSE’s Nightingale for the Midnight Projects series while working in Ashland. Salas described the experience of performing in OSF and the relevance of Nightingale’s theme to current social issues.

“Working in OSF’s rehearsal rooms, with actors from the festival, and with an amazingly supportive production team helped creative energy flow in a way I have never experienced before,” Salas said in an email interview. “The subject matter of silencing women is something that we feel very strongly about. There is a tendency to turn away from this as a problem, but even on a subtle level, everyday women are too often ‘put in their place.’ Exploring this through articles, poetry and other sources was really great,” Salas said.

Battista described the storyline of the production and its integration of the contemporary stories of real women who have been silenced after being attacked.

“We open the play by telling Marie de France’s poem, so it begins with a ‘once upon a time’ feel, and it is a love story about a woman who is silenced. For our expanded, one-hour version to be performed in Davis, we’ve woven into it more contemporary narratives of women who have been silenced after being violated or abused,” Battista said.

The artistic directors use a fusion of various elements of theatrical design to tell the story of “Laüstic” and to depict the theme of the silencing of women in an artistic and visceral performance.

“The style of the production is a mix of physical theater and interview-based theater because there is a lot of movement, live sound manipulation, music, as well as shadow puppetry,” Battista said. “We integrate the true stories of women found through various sources. One story we use comes from a blog post about a woman who experienced sexual harassment on the street.”

Richard Chowenhill, DSE’s associate artistic director and resident composer, discussed how his musical composition contributes to storytelling in the production.

“In order to contribute a unique sense of character to each story line, I decided to compose a different musical theme for each of the stories. As the individual stories develop, so too do their respective musical themes. This design adds a feeling of continuity and sense of depth to the work while also serving as a guide for the audience, as the actors move swiftly between the various storylines,” Chowenhill said in an email interview.

DSE was selected to perform Nightingale in the San Francisco Fringe Festival in September, and aims to create a dynamic, visceral theater performance for both Davis and San Francisco shows. Their final production of the season will be As You Like It, which will be featured in June.

From April 5 to the 14 at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 6:30 p.m. Sundays, Davis Shakespeare Ensemble’s Nightingale will be performed at Pamela Trokanski Dance Workshop & Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $12 for students and seniors, and $15 for adults. Tickets sales and information are available at http://www.shakespearedavis.com/box-office.

CRISTINA FRIES can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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