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Wherefore Art Thou, Concord?

By Bridgette Morris
On April 29, 2015

CaptioMany came out to audition for any role they could get. Stage manager Summer Wilding says there were even some high school students who came to audition on Thursday.
Photo by Bridgette Morris

Concord University’s Appalachian Shakespeare Project (ASP) held auditions this past Thursday and Friday for one of the most famous plays to come out of Shakespeare’s repertoire, Romeo and Juliet. Anyone interested in auditioning for a role was welcome to come out and join in on the fun.

Dr. Gabriel Rieger, Executive Project Director of ASP and Associate Professor of English at the university, says rehearsals will begin around the end of May, with the current tentative date being May 28. Performances will take place at Concord University’s Athens campus behind the Alexander Fine Arts Building from July 24 to July 26. This year’s project director is Ginger Boyles.

Auditions for Romeo and Juliet drew in a good crowd. Madison Knight was one of many prospective actors that attended. She says that theatre has always interested her, so she thought she would give it a try. 

Andrew Viscup auditioned along side Knight. When asked if he hoped for the role of Romeo he said that the leading man would be his first choice, but he would be happy to have any part in the production. 

Summer Wilding, a graduate of Bluefield College, will be serving as the project’s stage manager this year. Last year was her first experience with the Appalachian Shakespeare Project. She played the role of Ariel, the mischievous spirit from one of Shakespeare’s later works, The Tempest. The role really allowed her to put her theatre experience to work as she fine tuned her performance. She says she really enjoyed being a part of the production, and that the part of Ariel was a role where she got a chance to create her own costume, work alongside the director in developing her character, and they even went as far as dyeing her hair purple.

Wilding is excited for her new role as stage manager. She was a stage manager at Bluefield College, and now she will be able to use her degree in a whole new context.

Putting on a play is not the only reason for Wilding’s involvement with the Appalachian Shakespeare Project, however. While she obviously enjoys the theatrical aspects of the project, she appreciates the project on a much more personal level. She explained, “It not only brings a whole cast together as a family to put on this show, but it gives a sense of belonging and community for anyone in the area to come and watch us, for us to reach out to other people. It brings a lot of people together, and that’s why I really like it.”

As for the play itself, the Appalachian Shakespeare Project has been wanting to perform Romeo and Juliet for a while, according to Rieger. He says the project likes to alternate comedy and tragedy each year, and that, “This year the time just seemed right for it.”

Rieger says the play will be fairly traditional in that they are sticking to the original text, but Boyles has some interesting ideas that she hopes will go far in sprucing up the traditional costumes associated with the play. Costuming will still be based in the Renaissance style, but with some modern touches, such as the ever-popular steam punk and contemporary goth fashions. 

The project’s first production was A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the summer of 2010. Macbeth was performed the following summer. The plays are always performed outside, as is traditional with Summer Shakespeare. The tradition of performing outside pays homage to Shakespeare’s own time, when performances were given in large, open-air auditoriums. 

The idea for the Appalachian Shakespeare Project began before Rieger took his place among the many educators at Concord. While in the process of being hired, he was contemplating what contributions he could make to the university. He recalled, “I read the mission statement of the university, which held up among other objectives that ‘Concord University exists to serve the economic and cultural needs of Southern West Virginia,’ and my thought was, ‘this means that Concord University should provide a Summer Shakespeare program.’”

Being a fan of Summer Shakespeare himself, it only made sense that he would bring this service to the university. Rieger says since the installment of the project, the reaction has been extremely positive, and that they bring in large crowds with each performance.

He continued to say that the ASP does everything possible to make Shakespeare enjoyable and understandable for their audiences. “We strive to present a show that will entertain and speak to an audience, and be as much fun for an audience in 2015 as it was for an audience in 1595,” he says.

When asked why Shakespeare should matter to people in the community Rieger replied, “Shakespeare is the common heritage of every English language speaker, and so many people encounter Shakespeare in their high school classes, they find the language challenging, and they say to themselves, ‘Well I don’t understand this,’ and they just sort of wash their hands of it. And in doing that, I think they’re cheating themselves out of a really exciting, engaging experience.”

He added that the ASP thrives on their audience, and that the audience is the reason they do this. He hopes that everyone will tell their friends and join them when it comes time for the performance.

Rieger says that if anyone was unable to make it to the scheduled auditions, there is still a chance for them to try their hand in Shakespeare, and if anyone wishes to be involved with the ASP off-stage that they will most certainly find a job for them. This could be a range of tasks such as costuming, set design, painting, hanging fliers, or helping with publicity. To audition, or to find out how to get involved, contact Dr. Gabriel Rieger at, or Ginger Boyles at

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