E'en a sea of troubles disturbs not this famed troupe

By Bridgette M. Redman

At any given moment, the task of keeping two classical shows on the road can be likened to either Brutus' tide that leads on to fortune or a veritable comedy of errors. On some days, it can be both.
The Acting Company has been developing young, well-trained actors by giving them experience in classical theater for 39 seasons now. But all that experience doesn't prevent the daily emergencies that can have everyone on staff running whether they are on the tour or not.
The Acting Company, which is making its way to West Bloomfield and Kalamazoo for performances March 10 through 13, recently experienced such travails while driving to Atlanta. An actor came down with an abscessed tooth, and the staff back home had to find a dentist that could treat the actor as soon as the bus pulled into town and before the show went up that night.
Thankfully a board member lived in Atlanta and put the staff in touch with a dentist who could come to the rescue.
It's this kind of effort that makes sure no one misses a curtain.
"I can count on one hand, maybe two, the number of times in 39 years we've had to put an understudy in," said the co-founder and Producing Artistic Director The Acting Company, Margot Harley. "The understudies are ready to go on, but we don't want them to because they're coming out of another part. There are no leftover stray actors sitting in the wings waiting to understudy. They're all on stage."
She recounted a recent performance in Minneapolis where a serious stomach flu was raging through the cast. Everyone performed and the stage crew kept buckets handy off stage.
"They were great," Harley said. "It has to be a very serious problem not to go on."
This year's company, which is performing "Julius Caesar" and "Comedy of Errors," consists of 13 cast members and eight crew members. They travel in two busses and a truck all around the country to mostly small towns and cities.
"It's a complicated business," Harley said of the task of keeping shows on the road. "You juggle schedules, times and there are many challenges that come up every day."
The tour makes its first Michigan stop in West Bloomfield where it will present "Julius Caesar" on March 10 and "The Comedy of Errors" on March 11 at The Berman Center for the Performing Arts. The show then loads up and heads to Kalamazoo where the company will perform "The Comedy of Errors" in Miller Auditorium on March 13.
This type of schedule puts extra pressure on the tour's crew.
"The real heroes of this tour are the tech people," Harley said. "If we are doing one-night stands, they arrive at 8 a.m., they set up, they run the show, they tear it down, load it up, sleep on the bus and arrive at the next place and do the exact same thing."
The crew consists of eight people, each in charge of a major aspect of performance. The actors, meanwhile, perform in repertory two shows set relatively modern. "The Comedy of Errors" draws from the silent film era of the early part of last century, while "Julius Caesar" drops the action in today's political climate.
"We're imagining a 'Julius Caesar' that captures the energy and excitement of American politics of the last presidential and mid-term elections: the rallies, the protests, the political spectacles of conventions," said The Acting Company's Director Rob Melrose. The play opens at an Occupy protest.
The omens were fortuitous for a performance of Shakespeare's political drama. The Acting Company was looking for a drama to contrast with "The Comedy of Errors," which they were carrying over from last season.
"We'd never done 'Julius Caesar,' and we've been doing (Shakespeare) for 40 years," Harley said. "It seemed politically a good time to do 'Julius Caesar' and we found a director that we wanted who was really interested in doing 'Julius Caesar.' It just all came together."
For two of the actors, the performances will be a homecoming of sorts. Detroit native Ernest Bentley and Hope Summer Repertory Theatre Alum Noah Putterman are part of the cast making the swing through the state.
They are part of a long tradition of young actors coming out of M.F.A. programs going on the road with meaty roles in some of theater's best plays.
"We develop actors, we don't train them," Harley said. "We expect them to be trained before they come into the company."
Starting with its first season, The Acting Company finds young actors who have very little experience but go on to become powerhouses in the theater world. Their first troupe in 1972 included such performers as Patti LuPone and Kevin Kline, who were then in the first graduating class of Juilliard's Drama Division. Harley and co-founder John Houseman wanted to keep them together and give them the experience that would match their training. It's a tradition they've carried on for 39 seasons, and one that makes the performance something special for its audiences.
"They'll see young actors who will someday become well-known actors, which is great fun. They can say they saw them when they were young," Harley said.
Their two-fold mission of bringing high quality professional classical theater to areas that might not have it and to develop young actors keeps every tour exciting and fresh. For this Tony-award winning company, the commitment has been the tide "which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."
'Julius Caesar' and 'The Comedy of Errors'
'Julius Caesar' performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 10 and 'The Comedy of Errors' performs at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 11 at The Berman Center for the Performing Arts, 6600 W. Maple Rd., West Bloomfield. 248-661-1900.

'The Comedy of Errors' then performs at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 13 at Miller Auditorium, located on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. 269-387-2300.


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