Category Archives: Hoosier Shakes

Hoosier Shakes: on-the-job training for young actors

I spent a significant portion of my life teaching undergraduate college students the discipline and practice of theatre in some relatively remote areas, remote with respect to New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

I struggled with training young artists and practitioners whose hopes and dreams of making it in the business of show was extremely different if not impossible.

So, one of Hoosier Shakes’ pillars is to offer students on-the-job training with professional actors. The net result allows students to rise to the occasion and “hold their own” up against more seasoned actors and directors. A wonderful side benefit to this on-the-job training if the relationships and networks students are able to develop with professionals from across the country. A couple of our past professionals have worked on national Broadway tours or on the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars stage.

As I’ve written elsewhere,

“During our 2016 season, senior theatre major Beverly Wagner was cast as part of the company. Beverly struggled as an actor in her university’s theatre program, but one of the two professional directors saw something in her audition that compelled him to cast her as Feste in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. She grew exponentially as a performer over the three and one half weeks of rehearsals. Audiences were drawn to Feste and after each performance were surprised to learn that the actor was a student performer. Beverly grew more in three and one half weeks than she did the previous three years in her undergraduate program. The opportunity Hoosier Shakes provided to work with professional directors and alongside more seasoned actors allowed her to succeed beyond expectations.”

Beverly Wagner as Feste in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (2016)

One student actor’s mother shared,

“My “Mom mind” thought, “Wow, his first paid gig in the field of acting. How exciting!” Little did I know that these weeks would be filled with so much more than just a “paid gig.”

“Austin moved to one of 3 homes rented for 12 actors who converged on our little community from across the US.

“These “strangers” became my son’s world for the past 6 weeks. They lived, breathed, loved, learned, ate, slept, sweat, cried, laughed and become as much “one” as twelve people can be.

“To each of these cast and crew members, THANK YOU! You have taken my breath, made me laugh heartily, and cry with raw emotion. These performances were truly remarkable! You are all truly remarkable!”

“It’s one thing to learn one’s craft from a class or textbook; it is something altogether different to learn your craft from a craftsman.”


Hoosier Shakes and Community

Hoosier Shakes is all about community. The arts, in general, have a way of breaking down barriers for people. When Marilyn and I were living in New York City a few years back, we would occasionally frequent the Museum of Modern Art. Admission was free on Fridays and you would find people from all walks of life. There would be executives on lunch break, young families with children, homeless folks, etc, all occupying the same space. I enjoyed watching people clamoring around Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans or Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. Funny how everyone wanted a selfie with Starry Night. Try taking a selfie with dozens of strangers in the background. I suppose patrons were different on other days; the admission price would be prohibitive for many.

Hoosier Shakes’ Romeo, played by Deon Releford-Lee, swooning a patron. (2017)

Hoosier Shakes seeks to engage our community through accessible and entertaining experiences. Hoosier Shakes aims to make our performances completely accessible; many of the folks we’d like to reach with the Bard’s timely stories have little, if anything, to contribute to, much less really pay for, a ticket.

The Hoosier Shakes experience seeks to break down those barriers that separate us socially, economically, and culturally. From the moment folks arrive at a performance, they are drawn into the event through music, audience-actor interaction, and an a fair-like atmosphere. Everyone sees one another as fellow human beings rather than the categories with which they are identified and often stereotyped.

Hoosier Shakes’ patron during A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (2018) YCMA.

Hoosier Shakes intentionally seeks to provide that sort of Friday MoMA experience for the people of Grant and Wabash counties. At any given Hoosier Shakes performance, you are likely to find, young families with children, local businessmen and women, people of color, public servants, homeless folks, high school and college students, young and old alike. There is no attention give to our differences, only to our common bond around the theatre experience.

“You wanna go where people know the people are all the same” (Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart-Angelo).


Hoosier Shakes’ Twelfth Night crowd in the courtyard. (2016)

Hoosier Shakes Makes Plays: Artistic Development

One of Hoosier Shakes’ goals is “to vitalize the performance of Shakespeare…for the diverse communities of Grant and Wabash Counties, Indiana by presenting inspiring, accessible, literate, experiential theatrical performance.”

We do this by embracing a number of early modern staging practices in our performances, including:

Universal Lighting

Shakespeare’s theatres, and many others, enjoyed light that illuminated actor, stage, and audience alike, allowing for engagement between the actor and the audience member.

A Surrounded Space

Throughout theatre history, and especially in Shakespeare’s theatres, audiences surrounded a central performance space now known as thrust and arena staging. When the audience surrounds the playing space, they are part of the world of the play, visible to actor and other audience members, participating in the performance.

Simple Staging

Early modern theatres didn’t have elaborate sets. In Shakespeare’s theatres, acting companies performed different plays each day, so there wasn’t time for a complete set to be built. Simple sets upend the economics of making theatre, putting the emphasis on actor and text.


Many Shakespeare plays, from Hamlet to Macbeth to the histories, have dozens of characters, but early modern playing companies often had casts between 12 and 15. With a small group of actors and many characters, it was common practice for actors to play more than one role.

Enlivened Costuming

With simple sets and doubled actors, costumes are of critical importance to Shakespeare’s theatres. They served as the primary visual draw for a production and helped distinguish between characters. Importantly, Shakespeare’s theatres wore what was for them modern dress. Think the equivalent of a t-shirt and jeans, an evening gown, a tuxedo, or military fatigues for teenagers, ladies-in-waiting, lords, or soldiers, respectively.

Shipwreck scene from Pericles (2016).

Here’s what one patron had to say about our style,

“What I love most about Hoosier Shakes is the incorporation of the modern music before & during the show. It really makes the themes of the show relevant and it’s super fun. I also loved the physicality and the…. It was high energy and really worked. I also liked the doubling of characters and how much sense it made for those characters….”

And we do all this while presenting two plays in repertory. Join us this summer when you can see Othello: The Moor of Venice one night and As You Like It the next, or vice versa.


The Nuts & Bolts of Hoosier Shakes

Hoosier Shakes’ mission is to reveal the delight of Shakespeare’s theatre, language, and ideas by producing accessible, quality performances for the audiences of eastern Indiana and beyond and by providing not only exceptional, but also developmental experiences for students, and guest professionals.

That’s our mission. Here’s how that plays out…

Hoosier Shakes intentionally engages in:

  • Artistic Development
  • Community Development
  • Educational Development &
  • Economic Development

With respect to Artistic Development, Hoosier Shakes aims to provide accessible performances by employing original staging practices and audience engagement. One patron shared,

“I loved the way the play broke the boundaries of the stage in a way that engaged the audience and brought them into the show, experiencing firsthand the play unfold. I greatly appreciated and was drawn in with how well the actors were able to create the atmosphere and bring a modern flair to an old script. I’m sure this play could be done a thousand ways and I loved how uniquely you presented it. Well done!”

We participate in Community Development by offering our performances on a pay-what-you-will basis. If we were to charge full price for a ticket, just to recoup our expenses we’d have to sell them for $35.00. Thanks to our wonderful partners, we are able to eliminate any financial barriers allowing individuals and families from all walks of life to experience quality performances. A Hoosier Shakes audience typically spans racial, gender, age, and social-economic divisions.

One of Hoosier Shakes’ key features is in the area of Educational Development. We intentionally hire at least four student actors and four professional actors and two professional directors allowing students to hone their craft “on the job.”

Hoosier Shakes’ Economic Development is seen in a variety of ways. Most recently, Hoosier Shakes’ was singled out as one of two local organizations to receive partnership grants from the Grant County Visitors Bureau. We were challenged to develop partnerships with other county businesses to bolster economic development for other local businesses.

Check out the next four blog posts where we’ll unpack each of these developmental endeavors.

The Power of Theatre

Emilly Dykstra – Lady Capulet (Romeo and Juliet) and Margaret/Seacole (Much Ado About Nothing)


At last nights dress rehearsal for Romeo and Juliet, a dad and his two boys walked by partway through and decided to stay and watch the rest of the run. The little boys were enthralled. At one point, someone overheard one of them asking the dad what was happening, and he said to keep watching to find out and keep enjoying it. By the time the final fight scene happened and the tomb scene happened, they were completely engrossed.

We told them about opening Much Ado today, so they came back with the Mom, after a 14-hr workday for the dad and cancelling other plans for tonight. We even brought one of the boys on stage at one point where we invite an audience member up in the show. They’re coming back tomorrow to see all of Romeo and Juliet.

This little family has touched all of us so much in the last 24 hrs. This is why we do this. Why I agreed to be away from my husband and friends for 6 weeks and miss Chicago’s amazing summers, to all the sacrifices of a crazy summer schedule like this, to the bugs (and you guys all know that’s a big deal for me–haha!) and sweltering heat. It’s the hunger for a compelling story told live. I don’t know this family’s situation at all, but many audience members we’ll have this summer may never have seen a professionally produced play, may never have been able to afford one that came to town if not for our pay-what-you-can structure, and may not have experienced much of the world outside of their little spot in Indiana. But we’ve been able to transport them to Messina (Hawaii in our production) and Verona.

And we see ourselves in those boys, remembering the awe of our first live plays and the awe we feel now when we experience the transcendence of good live theatre. For me, stories help me make sense of the world and life and make me feel the closest to God in the telling of them.

Hoosier Shakes is doing something so special here and I believe will continue to do big things for this complicated and multifaceted little town and beyond

–  Emily Robinson

Marshall B. Garrett: Why Much Ado?


Marshall B Garrett, Baltimore, MD, Director of “Much Ado about Nothing”


When Greg first approached me about directing for Hoosier Shakes, I told him that I was itchy to do Much Ado. Itchy is an understatement. I’ve been neck deep in tragedies and histories since directing Twelfth Night in 2014. While years are just numbers, since the last time I directed a comedy, I’ve gotten married, bought a house, earned two masters degrees, and founded a theatre company of my own. In that time, I’ve directed the Second Part of Henry VI, twice. And in 2013, I was seriously considering starting a theatre company dedicated to comedy exclusively. So while I was itchy to do Much Ado (more on that below), I was also just starving for comedy. Luckily, I get to do a couple this summer, first here, and then Knight of the Burning Pestle with the American Shakespeare Center Theatre Camp.


So why Much Ado? What is it about this silly little play that has me boldly telling a producer I’d never met which show I’d like to direct? It’s all in the title. Much Ado about Nothing. At first, it sounds like one of those “Shakespeare titles” that has nothing to do with the show, like As You Like It, What You Will, All’s Well that Ends Well, etc. I imagine all of those titles you can dig deeper as well, but that’s a tangent we don’t want to go down right now. Much Ado about Nothing is a densely rhetorical joke that works, by my count, on about 4 different levels.


To begin, he title is antithetical. Much Ado is chaos. Nothing is… nothing. So we worry a lot about nothing at all. That’s pretty much the play at its core. The play begins with a messenger delivering news that war is concluded and the boys are coming home. The play ends with a messenger coming in telling us that the villain has been apprehended, and the admonition to “think not on him till tomorrow.” Scholars tend to date this play around the same time as the Henry IV and Henry V plays, and Julius Caesar. By comparison, this play is about nothing.


Moreover, we’ve got the various and sundry meanings of the word “nothing.” It can refer to a non-entity or a non-speaker – such a one is Hero, the ingenue at the center of the play. While this play is celebrated for the grand battles of wit between Beatrice and Benedick, and the madcap antics of Dogberry and the Watch, the story centers on Hero and Claudio. Therefore, there is much ado about (around) nothing (Hero). The flashy distracts from the substance.


Secondarily, “nothing” is also a sexual pun, being Elizabethan slang for female genitalia. The play is obsessed with virginity, cuckoldry, and faithfulness. Since, short of a pregnancy, there is no physical evidence of an unfaithful spouse. It’s all reputation, which, as Iago would have it, “is an idle and most false imposition: oft got without merit, and lost without deserving” (Othello 2.3). The women are bound by their faithfulness to men, while the men (particularly Benedick) are celebrated and gently (if at all) chided about their promiscuity. Indeed, Benedick’s opposition to marriage is based in a fear of cuckoldry, while one of the first statements about him is that paternity of Hero is not in doubt because “Then you [Benedick] were a child” (Much Ado 1.1). Watch for the four women in the play – Beatrice, Hero, Margaret, and Ursula – and their relationships to sexuality, marriage, and men.


Thirdly, the word “nothing” was, to the Elizabethans, pronounced “noting.” At this point, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that “noting” also had three relevant meanings, all of which exist today. The first is “noting” as in overhearing. The play is full of observation, known and unknown, accurate and misunderstanding. Claudio asks Benedick if he “noted the daughter of Leonato”, to which Benedick remarks that he “noted her not, but I looked on her” (1.1). Antonio’s servant overhears (inaccurately) that the Prince intends to marry Hero, while Borachio (accurately) notes that the Prince will woo Hero for Claudio. Beatrice and Benedick overhear (deliberately) that the one loves the other, and are convinced to fall in love. And many more that you’ll see after intermission, and so I’ll save for those who do not know the play. Everything that happens in the play is the result of “noting” what others say or do.


“Noting” can also have a physical meaning, as in composing a note. I mentioned already the notes of the messengers that frame the play, which are again relevant here. At the risk of spoiling a 400 year old play, I’ll not go into how written notes finally bring the play to an end, but I encourage you to watch for it at the end of the play.


And, to conclude, “noting” is musical, as in the Prince’s “note notes, forsooth, and nothing” (2.3). The play’s dominant metaphor is in music. The songs of Balthasar, Claudio, and Benedick, and of the dances, are obvious. Within, we have references to measure, key, tune, verses, dances, ballads and so forth. Beatrice compares courtship and marriage to various dances, and was born under a dancing star (2.3). And, again, as the title would suggest, absence is as important as presence in terms of music. As you watch the play, listen for when we talk about music and dance, and when we don’t. What’s going on in the play when music is absent?


I have certainly rambled on long enough, and longer than I intended to. And so, I’ll leave you with nothing more.


Emily Robinson-Dykstra


Emily Robinson-Dykstra


Emily Robinson is a Chicago-area actor and director who is making her Hoosier Shakes acting debut this season.

Previous acting credits include Ellen Van Oss in Two Rooms, a 2015 Children’s Theatre Ensemble member, Martha Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace, and Gladys and an Accala Warrior in The Lost World (Three Brothers Theatre, Waukegan, IL); Margot Wendice in Dial M for Murder (Jedlicka Performing Arts Center, Cicero, IL); Gina in The Museum of Bad Art Plays: “Gina’s Demons” (Commedia Beauregard, Chicago); Sylvia Bryden in The Boarding House (Citadel Theatre Company, Lake Forest, IL); Kathleen Donnely in And Neither Have I Wings to Fly and Cecily Cardew in a staged reading of The Importance of Being Earnest (Shapeshifters Theatre Company, Chicago); and the Butler, a wife, and a dancer in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Genesis Theatre Project, Athens, OH). She has also appeared as Jennifer in the web series “Kole’s Law,” as Cheryl in the web series “Losers,” in a handful of short films, and as the voice of various characters in the syndicated radio show “Kids Corner.” She is also a company ensemble member, serving on the artistic direction team, for Three Brothers Theatre.

Directing credits include Julius Caesar, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Daddy Daughter Dance (Three Brothers Theatre) and Over the River and Through the Woods (Indiana Wesleyan University).

She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts, with emphases in theatre and film, from Indiana Wesleyan University, where she also served on the University Players staff. She completed a semester-long, off-campus film intensive at Los Angeles Film Studies Center, during which time she interned with a talent agency. She also spent a summer as an intern with Kentucky Shakespeare Festival in Louisville, KY, as the properties coordinator and was also a member of the run crew and set-building crew.

Deon Releford


Deon Releford, Fayetteville, IN


Making his Hoosier Shakes and Marion, IN debut, Deon is a dancer/actor who earned his BA in Speech/Theater from Fayetteville State University with a minor in dance. Some of his most recent credits include: A Chorus Line (CPCC) A Year with Frog and Toad, and Go Dog Go! (Children’s Theater Charlotte), The Little Mermaid (Sebastian), The Bluest Eye (Soaphead Church), The WIZ (scarecrow) (Cape Fear Regional Theater), A Few Good Men (Theater Raleigh) and the New York Premier of ASYLUM (Only Child Aerial Theater). Deon is thrilled to be apart of such great story telling and sends many thanks to all those involved. Never forget: love ALWAYS, love ALL WAYS.

Emily Smith


Emily Smith, Elwood, IN


Emily Smith is currently a 19-year-old senior studying theatre at Indiana Wesleyan University. In her time at IWU she has performed in Macbeth as Malcolm and Fleance and in Into the Woods as The Steward. Before this she participated in several dramas and musicals in high school, her favorite of which was starring as Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly!. She is also active in The Attic Theatre which performs Shakespeare in the Park every summer. Some of her favorite roles in those productions have been Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Marc Antony in Julius Caesar, and Corin in As You Like It.

Although Emily’s favorite pastime is theatre, she also enjoys rock climbing, watching BBC’s Sherlock, shopping for cable-knit sweaters, going barefoot, and exchanging stories with friends and family.

Katie Little

Katie Little, Staunton, VA
Originally from Dallas, TX, Katie is currently a resident of Staunton, VA, where she studies in Mary Baldwin University’s Shakespeare and Performance graduate program and works as an education artist at The American Shakespeare Center. At Mary Baldwin, Katie has had the opportunity to play roles such as Sarah in Archibald MacLeish’s J.B. and Hermia in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, while nourishing her love of singing and dancing in various community musical theatre projects. In Katie’s Shakespeare debut, she played Beatrice in her school’s 5th grade production of Much Ado, so she is delighted to finally revisit this play on stage as Hero and to fight her way through Romeo and Juliet as Tybalt and Paris with Hoosier Shakes this summer.

Before starting her graduate work, Katie received her BA in French and English Literature from Samford University and taught English in Strasbourg, France, for a year, so she is also a francophile with an incurable case of wanderlust.