Shakespeare in the Heights: New theater troupe to perform ‘Twelfth Night’ at Huber amphitheater

As a community production, the cast ranges from seasoned performers to first-time actors.

When Jene Rebbin Shaw and David Meadows, were strolling around the “YMCA at the Heights” one day, they realized the Eichelberger Amphitheater was only a short distance from their Medway home.

The theatrical couple immediately began to dream about performing Shakespeare in the park.

“I wanted to share the spark of passion for theater that was so much a part of how I fell in love with Jene, who is now my wife,” said Meadows. “Our shared love of Shakespearean theater and the work of collaborating with local community members on a theatrical production  is a unique experience to bring to Huber Heights.”

With the help of Jene and other community members, David has founded Shakespeare in the Heights, a non-profit community theater organization which will stage its first production the weekend of June 7-9 . The performances will be free with donations appreciated. Jene is the play’s director.

Stone benches are built into the amphitheater and ground level seating is available on the stage. Audience members are invited to bring blankets, cushions, or stadium chairs for comfort.

“I have been involved with Shakespeare in South Park for a few seasons, and last year finally appeared on stage, after many decades away from the stage,” said Meadows. “I admire the family-oriented, community model of that group and thought this could be a good model to bring to Huber Heights.”

He met with Chris Lindeman of the YMCA, who also brought in Huber Heights Parks Manager Sarah McPherson.

“She  jumped on the idea of adding Shakespeare in the Heights to their summer arts series,” Meadows said.

“Many members of the Huber Heights Community are passionate about art and theater,” said McPherson. “Citizens and staff alike have inquired about theatrical productions at the Eichelberger in the past but the City did not have the community partner to help see it through.”

When David and Jene approached his department with the desire to do a Shakespeare production, McPherson said it was a no-brainer. 

“This was the group of passionate individuals we have needed. I am very excited to witness their success this year and hopefully for many years to come.”

Jene, who has acted and directed in other community-based outdoor Shakespeare, including Playhouse South and Shakespeare in South Park, loves the “magic” of outdoor theater.

“Shakespeare in the park is an opportunity for people to have fun and connect with others in new ways.”

The inaugural production is “Twelfth Night,” considered one of William Shakespeare’s finest comedies.

“The plot is light and humorous, highlighted by fantastic characters that are timeless,” Shaw said. “It’s one that actors and audiences can have a lot of fun with. Each time an actor takes on a Shakespearian character, they have the opportunity for a new interpretation of an ancient archetype. I wanted to set this production in a modern day metropolis to help the audience connect with the story and what the characters are experiencing.”

About the play

In a fictional New York City borough we are introduced to Duke Orsino, a young, charismatic politician on the rise who seeks to win the affections of the glamorous actress, Countess Olivia. We also meet shipwrecked twins (Sebastian and Viola) who have been separated and washed ashore to find their way in a strange city.

Disguising herself as a bike messenger, Viola becomes involved in relaying romantic messages from Orsino to Olivia.

Olivia has been in mourning after the loss of her father and brother, while her entourage — the mischievous Maria and the self-righteous Malvolio — try to keep her house in order. That’s complicated because her heavy-drinking uncle, (Sir Toby Belch) and his wealthy, hard-partying chum (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) live it up with late nights on the town with Feste the Fool in tow.

Tempers fly, identities are mistaken, trickery abounds and hilarity ensues.

Meet the performers

As a community production, the cast ranges from seasoned performers to first-time actors.

Lily Brown, who plays Viola, plans to pursue theater as a career, and will begin an actor training program in the fall.

“This is my first time performing Shakespeare, and I hope the audience enjoys the show as much as I have so far; the process has been a joy and the entire cast is hilarious,” she said.

Mary Beringer plays Olivia, and is also on the board for Shakespeare in the Heights.

“I am always excited to bring more free arts to the public,” she said, adding that Shakespeare in the Heights is one of those amazing projects by someone who saw a gap in the community and sought to fill it.

“It’s so important to me that the theater be accessible to all people,” Beringer said. “There’s this idea that theater is only for people who can afford Broadway tickets, but it has always been for everyone.”

Olivia has been one of her dream parts since she was first in “‘Twelfth Night” more than a decade ago.

“It’s such a delightful show to put on for modern audiences because of the way it plays with gender and sexuality and attraction, and Olivia is at the heart of that. I look forward to seeing how a 2024 audience responds to that.”

Michael Brown  (Antonio) has never been onstage before, but wanted to join his wife Melanie, an experienced actor who plays Maria.  “I am enjoying spending time with my wife, working with the other actors and the chance to be on stage for a while as playing a role that is nothing like I am in real life,” he said.

Shawn Daniels (Andrew Augucheek) has loved theater for decades and is performing after a hiatus. Production stage manager is Mary Carlson. Other cast members include Caleb Boquist Zoey Knapp, Brian Laughlin, Chris Petree, Dan Skrovan,  Wayne Wolfe and John Wysong.

How to go

What: “Twelfth Night” presented by Shakespeare in the Heights

When: 8 p.m. June 7-9 and a matinee at 2 p.m. June 9

Where: Eichelberger amphitheater at the Heights, 8625 Brandt Pike, Huber Heights

Admission: Free, with donations accepted

Seating: Audience members are invited to bring blankets, cushions, or stadium chairs for comfort

Running time: 90 minutes

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