Actors need housing forsooth so the summer’s show can go on

Dr. Bertam Garskof and Ellen Lieberman with their standard poodle, Roxanne, in their sunny living room. (Photo by Nancy Doniger)

Dr. Bertam Garskof and Ellen Lieberman with their standard poodle, Roxanne, in their sunny living room.(Photo by Nancy Doniger)

 

This summer marks the 15th anniversary and what should be a proud milestone for Connecticut Free Shakespeare.

But just as things were going great and shaping up for an anachronistic staging of As You Like It set in 1968 to the iconic music of the 60s, the carpet got pulled out from under the housing arrangements.

And that’s not all. In addition to that, a large portion of the anticipated funding came undone. To stage the timeless romance this season in Stratford and Bridgeport, the producers need community support anon to make it happen.

“It’s free admission, so that makes us fund raise all year long,” co-producer Ellen Lieberman said during an interview at her Brooklawn Avenue home in Bridgeport, which she shares with her husband, Dr. Bertram Garskof, the show’s co-producer.

“Now with our 15th summer comes our housing and funding problem,” she said.

Dr. Garskof added, “This year the City of Bridgeport for reasons they didn’t tell us cut our usual budget by a lot. We’re strapped for funds.”

For 14 seasons, Sacred Heart University housed the Equity actors who performed the free summer Shakespeare productions But this year, Sacred Heart changed its policy and no longer rents summer housing to outside groups.

They paid $6,500 for the housing at Sacred Heart but have not been able to find affordable housing at any of the neighboring universities they have checked, including Fairfield University, the University of Bridgeport and the University of New Haven, they said.

Not only that, but the City of Bridgeport pulled a large portion of the funding it has provided to bring the show downtown to McLevy Green.

The funding to bring the show to the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre of Stratford is intact, they said. Last summer the production drew an estimated audience of 1,500 — perhaps as many as 1,800 people — per performance — to the green at the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, they said.

Ms. Lieberman and Dr. Garskof have learned that the Stratford community used to house the actors who played at the Shakespeare Festival Theatre before it closed in the 1980s.

“That is such an incredible idea,” Ms. Lieberman said.

Connecticut Free Shakespeare’s production last summer of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, sponsored by the Stratford Arts Council, was part of the theater’s revival, which has been underway for a number of years.

Ms. Lieberman and Dr. Garskof are hoping that private homeowners might be willing to open their hearts and homes to an actor for five weeks this summer. The show has 10 Equity actors, most of whom have worked with Connecticut Free Shakespeare before, they said.

“We’re hoping that people who would like to take in an actor will volunteer their homes,” Dr. Garskof said.

Dolly Curtis of Easton was with them at their home during the recent interview, and looks forward to each summer’s free Shakespeare production. Ms. Lieberman and Dr. Garskof were surprised and pleased to learn that she was even there the first season, when the show was at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, and it rained every night.

Many of the actors keep coming back, year after year, and not only has she gotten to know them, but they know her, she said.

“They remember the audience, too,” she said. “It’s amazing the way they interact. They come over to the audience and say, ‘It’s nice to see you.’ Ellen has them mingle among the children and they get all the children up on stage during intermission and they dance.”

Ms. Lieberman said, “I never could understand why you’d see a play, and there would be intermission and there would be nothing. We keep it going during intermissions in a very relaxed way.”

Dr. Garskof that the actors take songs from the show, and the kids dance to them during the intermission, leading into the second act.

“There is a flow and it works beautifully,” he said.

The kids, many of whom have been coming for many summers, know it’s coming, and automatically come up on the stage, Ms. Lieberman said.

“I say to myself, ‘You can’t buy this kind of thing,’ Dr. Garskof said.

“And it’s Shakespeare,” Ms. Lieberman said.

Housing requirements

Actors need to move in July 7, and they will be done and will move out Aug. 11. Many of them live in New York and go home on their days off. Even those from Boston and California often go to New York for the weekend, Ms. Lieberman said.

Each actor must have his or her own room and can not share a room. The room must be air conditioned, and the actors must have access to a kitchen and bathroom, according to the Equity contract.

The host family does not have to feed, entertain or transport the actors, who will be picked up by van and taken to their rehearsals six days a week; they have Mondays off.

Shows are July 30, 31, and Aug. 1 in Stratford and Aug. 6 to 10 in Bridgeport.

“Based on the tradition of the Shakespeare theater, the community housed the actors and talked about the fondness they had for them,” Ms. Curtis said. “The actors liked living in the community and biking around.”

She is hopeful along with the producers that people in the community will volunteer to house actors this summer.

“The goal is to make Shakespeare delightful for everyone. The Shakespeare scholars and groupies and also for people who have never seen a play by Shakespeare or anybody. We make it fun and easy to understand.

Every summer has been a miracle, Ms. Lieberman said. This summer, they need a pocketful of miracles to bring back the bard so the show can go on.

For information about housing an actor or helping with funding, send an email to Ms. Lieberman at ellen@dandelionproductions.org or call her at 203-232-8805.

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