2018-11-08 / Around Town

Shakespeare Shineth in Jamestown

By James Merolla


Modern interpretation of Shakespeare will be performed Saturday, Nov. 17 and Sunday, Nov. 18 at the Jamestown Arts Center. Modern interpretation of Shakespeare will be performed Saturday, Nov. 17 and Sunday, Nov. 18 at the Jamestown Arts Center. In 2010, shortly after a passionate group of Jamestown artists and organizers had purchased the building at 18 Valley Street, and prior to major renovations that would turn out to be the Jamestown Arts Center, founders were hosting an open house that led to an invitation when a man in the playground across the street yelled out, “Hey, what are you guys doing over there?”

“We invited him in, gave him a tour of the space, and told him about our vision for a fully operational arts center,” said Lisa Utman Randall, JAC executive director. “He asked if we’d considered hosting theatrical performances, and we said, ‘Yes!’ Turns out [he was] Brian Mertes, director of Graduate Studies for the Brown/Trinity Repertory programs in acting and directing.

“Brian loved our big open space and felt it was full of possibilities for the incredibly talented MFA students in the program,” Utman Randall said. “The first year, we had an audience of about 20 people, because no one had heard of the program or had any idea how fabulous their productions were. Word got out quickly, though, and now we are about to host our seventh year of Shakespeare with Brown/ Trinity Rep. The plays have been truly amazing. The acting and the directing are incredible. And the way they use our space has been surprising and dynamic.”

JAC’s partnership with the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA programs is continuing with the presentation of two Shakespeare plays on Nov.17-18: “Julius Caesar,” directed by Josiah Davis, and “Comedy of Error Ahi no! Comedia de Equivocaciones,” a bilingual production under the direction of Tatyana-Marie


James Merolla, whose links to theater go back to Hasty Pudding at Harvard, has reviewed theatrical productions all over New England since 1991. James Merolla, whose links to theater go back to Hasty Pudding at Harvard, has reviewed theatrical productions all over New England since 1991. Carlo.

One can only imagine how Davis and Carlo will stage Shakespeare’s two large vehicles of murdered emperors and comical mistaken identity, the latter in two languages.

“We have had an SUV driven right into the space during a play, actors screaming from the window that opens up close to the top of our 18-foot ceiling, and sword fights that start outside in our parking lot, where the audience can watch through the window, and end up in the middle of the room, literally at our feet,” Utman Randall said.

“We’ve even had the whole audience get up from their seats and walk out to the playground for part of a production. The program has an incredible mobile stage that was created by Eugene Lee [Trinity Rep’s Tony Award-winning set designer], which they wheel in through our big garage doors and set up wherever it works best for the production. The actors and directors come in, never having seen our space, and in a few hours, block out the performance before the guests arrive.”

The graduate student actors are exactly the multi-dimensional guest artists that the founders envisioned when they first dreamed of establishing a dynamic center for the arts in the heart of Jamestown.

The JAC officially opened in July 2011 as a multi-disciplinary visual and performing arts space that hosts art exhibits, theater and dance performances, film nights, OutLoud events and concerts, and provides art and design educational programs for people of all ages.

Housed in a 5,000-square-foot former boat repair shop, the JAC is also home to the East Bay Met School’s Arts Advisory, an alternative public high school program for young visual and performing artists.

The Brown/Trinity Rep MFA programs provide a three-year professional training program for 18 students under the auspices of an Ivy League university and Rhode Island’s Tony Award-winning theater company.

“Needless to say, it’s all pretty exciting!” said Utman Randall.

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