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'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern' take the stage next at Corn Stock

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For the past several years Andrew Rhodenbaugh has helped guide a group of mostly young performers called The Great Work Begins Theatre Troupe as it has staged adapted versions of classics by Shakespeare and the ilk.

They’ve performed in different places in the Peoria area, both outside and indoors, in a method that is largely a collaborative effort between the rewriting and the staging of the plays. Along the way, some fine local talent has gotten some exposure, though limited to the audiences who happen to hear about them.

Now Rhodenbaugh is getting the opportunity to test that method in a community theatre setting when he directs “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” in Corn Stock Theatre’s Winter Playhouse. The play opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. and continues Saturday, then again on Jan. 21, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 24.

Rhodenbaugh chose this play “because I thought it would be a good way to bring a little Shakespeare to the Winter Playhouse. It hasn’t been there in quite a while.”

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” is not written by Shakespeare, but is a play about “Hamlet.” Rather, playwright Tom Stoppard wrote about the staging of “Hamlet”; the title characters are two courtiers from that play who are observing it from the wings.

In “Hamlet,” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are minor characters who nonetheless became somewhat major by virtue of one of the last lines of the Shakespeare drama, when another character announces that “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.”

Indeed, in this play they become the main characters as reality and illusion intertwine until the end when… Well, let’s not give it away.

“What I really like about this show is that it is a play that is aware of itself being a play. It examines the structure of a play and there is a lot of breaking the fourth wall,” Rhodenbaugh said, referring to the theatre term for interacting with the audience while performing.

That’s a good thing in some plays, including “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,” he added. “I want the audience to leave her knowing it is possible to be an active participant in a play, even if that just means you can feel as if you actually are existing in the same space as the characters.”

That is one of the strengths of The Great Work Begins group, particularly when it performs outside at Camp Wokanda, near Mossville. There audiences are made to feel somewhat part of the action because the stage is actually the ground directly in front of them.

But a key to making the collaborative method work in those productions is that there are no technical issues as with a community theatre that has sound and lights and uses full costuming and sets, Rhodenbaugh said. “We work well together to bring it about,” he said.

Rhodenbaugh said he wasn’t sure that method would work in this case, where there needs to be people in charge of different aspects to make it all happen and one director overseeing it all. “It was an experiment and some of it worked. I admit I will do some things different the next time I direct here, but I have enjoyed this experience and the people I’m working with. I’m glad I did it,” he said.

He added that he found through this process that his strengths are in performing. “But this presented my with a whole new set of challenges and I enjoy challenges. I definitely want to direct again so I can continue to learn,” he said.

Rhodenbaugh praised his cast of 13 performers, a mixture of community theatre veterans and some newcomers. Most, however, have performed with The Great Work Begins.

Rosencrantz is portrayed by Brett Harlow in his first adult role at Corn Stock after performing in youth shows. Guildenstern is portrayed by Tony Pagan in his first Corn Stock show in several years. Rhodenbaugh praised both for their hard work in the challenging roles where they are on stage the entire time.

Liz Scoville is Player, while Tannen Skriver portrays Hamlet, Hannah Shelby is Ophelia, Paul Arbisi is the Ambassador, Horatio is Blake Stubbs and the Troupe of Actors are portrayed by Ben Maxwell, Madison Boedecker and Jerrod Barth.

Veterans of Corn Stock and other area community theatres are Charles Richard Brown as Claudius, Becky Clifton as Gertrude and Nathan Irwin as Polonius.

Jess Hemmis is assistant director.

“This has been a challenge for me because I’ve had to worry about all the tech stuff that goes with doing a show in this space. I’m not used to that. But I said from the start this would be a show where everybody contributes and they have,” Rhodenbaugh said.

Tickets for “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” are $10 for adults and $7 for students and they can be reserved by calling (309) 676-2196.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).