Shakespeare Theatre partners with Madison community to bring production to life

July 16, 2014

More than any other art form, theatre is collaborative. The playwright, the designers, the actors, and the director must all join forces to create life onstage each night. In the same vein, I would argue that more than any other art form, theatre is meant to be experienced in community.

Matthew Holowienka is an intern at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey

Now, that’s not to say that each person sitting in a darkened house will react the same to a playwright’s words. But so long as the lights are up onstage, we laugh together, get scared together, and when things turn out just right, we applaud together as the curtain falls.

What better time to think about theatre’s capacity to bring people together than as we celebrate the Independence Day season and New Jersey’s 350th anniversary?

As The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey presents George Bernard Shaw’s  The Devil’s Disciple, his only full-length play about America, we hope to extend that theatrical sense of community beyond the confines of the stage. Why should your theatrical experience end when the lights come up? And if the community is so intrinsic in enjoying the art of theatre, why shouldn’t that community be involved in it? Time to break down the fourth wall.

As an intern in my first season with The Shakespeare Theatre, I didn’t know what exactly to expect as this venture began. How does this community interact? Will others be willing to work with us?

“This area has such strong community and historical ties, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to work with our neighbors throughout this production,” said Rick Engler, the Theatre’s Director of Marketing.

We formed a powerful team: the landmark tavern restaurant Poor Herbie’s in Madison, the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts, and the Morris County Tourism Bureau. Together, the local community brings Shaw’s masterpiece to life for the local community — just like our company brings Shaw’s words to life for audiences at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre.

It began with Poor Herbie’s. Since my arrival, I have heard someone mention this restaurant almost daily; it evidently holds a special place in the company’s heart. From the millennium clock standing on historic Waverly Place to the old photos which line Poor Herbie’s walls, one can really sense Madison’s uniquely historical character when they step through Poor Herbie’s door.

Proprietor Dennis Mullins, Jr. generously offered to give customers who present their The Devil’s Disciple ticket stub a 10 percent discount. He also suggested a summer cocktail based on the play.

Inspired by The Devil’s Disciple, he designed a delicious BBQ cherry-infused Manhattan—complete with Jim Beam Devil’s Cut bourbon. It’s a perfect combination, with classic American flavors and a bit of a kick. In many ways, it’s a wonderful metaphor for The Devil’s Disciple — a play which depicts a small traditional American community turned upside down by a visit from “the Devil’s Disciple” himself.

Staff from The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey partner with the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts on an American Revolution-themed pop up exhibit as part of its production of The Devil’s Disciple.

Just a short walk down Main Street is the second member of our team: the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts. With the museum’s help, we arranged a special “pop-up” exhibit from the ongoing exhibit The American Revolution: Where the Battlefront Meets the Homefront to stand in our Theatre’s lobby throughout The Devil’s Disciple’s run.

The Museum’s Curator of Education Meg Wastie arrived at our doors, artifacts in tow. After an hour of careful work, Wastie, one museum staff member, and four Shakespeare Theatre interns created an impressive miniature display featuring actual 18th century relics. I learned quite a bit of history during this process, and maybe I took for granted just how important a role our state played in the fight for independence. Did you know that during the Revolutionary War, George Washington’s troops fought more battles in New Jersey than in any of the other 13 colonies? I never imagined I would hold actual cannon balls used to defend the country over 300 years ago.

The spirit of the Revolution really is alive in Morris County. On Independence Day, our marketing staff attended the Morris County Tourism Bureau’s “Revolutionary Times” event, sponsored by The Shakespeare Theatre, Crossroads of the American Revolution, MorrisArts, and several other great local organizations.

The pews of The Presbyterian Church in Morristown were filled with people cheering as the Declaration of Independence was read aloud. Experiencing such a palpable sense of local and even, national community was amazing. It only made The Devil’s Disciple’s timeless message about what it truly means to be an American all the more relevant to me.

Throughout this experience, I have had the chance to really encounter Morris County firsthand. Born and raised in Jersey City, I was new to the area before this summer. And I have learned much about this wonderful community, the people who live in it, and the history which unites us all.

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s production of The Devil’s Disciple runs through July 28. For more information and to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or visit Photos are courtesy The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.