A sword fight choreographed by Steve Sussman
A sword fight choreographed by Steve Sussman. (Courtesy of Steve Sussman)

On Sept. 10, Shakespeare in Love reopened for the second time at Birmingham Village Players, in front of a live, masked audience and will run through Sept. 26.

It was March 6, 2020. Opening night of Shakespeare in Love at Birmingham Village Players. The audience raved about the romantic comedy that tells the fictional story of the creation of Romeo and Juliet and is based on the Academy Award-winning movie of the same name. In fact, the cast and crew celebrated a stellar opening weekend of three performances. And then Broadway and the theater world shut down six days later. The Shakespeare in Love set, props and costumes sat dormant for 18 months.

On Sept. 10, Shakespeare in Love reopened for the second time at Birmingham Village Players, in front of a live, masked audience and will run through Sept. 26.

“We essentially picked up where we left off,” says Steve Sussman, who is Village Players’ Artistic Board president, a featured cast member and the show’s fight scene choreographer. “Everyone is thrilled and excited to be back on stage and reprising our roles.”

Between some scheduling conflicts and people who had moved out of state during the pandemic, a few roles had to be recast, including the lead character, William Shakespeare.

Patrick Lane plays Shakespeare, which is very fortuitous for the production reboot, as he’s married in real-life to Ashley Lane, who plays his love-interest, Viola.

“Village Players has taken all the precautions necessary to keep the actors and audience safe,” says Ashley Lane, who received her MFA in acting, along with her husband, at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. “I am lucky all around that my husband stepped in as my leading man. I only have to kiss him, so no safety protocols are being broken, which makes it all the more fun to be onstage together.”

Alan Binkow and Steve Sussman
Alan Binkow and Steve Sussman Courtesy of Steve Sussman
Jewish Performers

Sussman, an architect, sits on the Village Players Safety Committee made up of Village Players members, including two physicians. They have worked tirelessly to implement safety measures such as requiring that the cast and crew are fully vaccinated. In addition, the first row of seats has been removed in the auditorium to provide greater spacing and separation between the audience and onstage actors. There are no afterglows or gatherings, and audience members can greet the cast only outside following the show. The theater is cleaned and sanitized after each performance.

Besides COVID protocols to consider, rehearsals had to be changed to accommodate the Jewish holidays for the two Jewish actors in the cast of 25 — Sussman and Alan Binkow of Troy.

“Because our director, Holly Conroy, moved around our dress rehearsal and brush-up rehearsal, I was able to attend services at Temple Shir Shalom,” says Binkow, who plays Wabash, the stuttering tailor. “It’s so great to be back on stage. It’s been 18 long months without theater, but I hope we are here to stay.”

Sussman’s family and in-laws enjoyed Rosh Hashanah dinner outdoors at his home in Bloomfield Hills.

When Sussman wasn’t onstage rehearsing his role of Richard Burbage, he was choreographing the three sword-fight scenes, including one with Sussman as the dueling theater owner.

“While fencing is very physical, it also has a mental component that they call ‘physical chess’ because you’re always plotting moves and planning your strategy,” says Sussman, who was on the fencing team at Michigan State University as a freshman. He also volunteers once a week as the beginner foil fencing coach at the Honor Guards Fencing Club in Auburn Hills.

“There is a big difference between the sport of fencing and sword-fighting on stage. In fencing, the goal is to hit your opponent. In theater, it’s the exact opposite. With stage combat, the number one thing is that both actors are safe. It’s kind of like a dance number where it’s choreographed so you know each other’s movements while making it look realistic and exciting,” Sussman adds. 

In rehearsals, they practiced with wooden swords. In the performances, they use steel rapiers.

“Just like the Three Musketeers,” says Sussman. “It looks great on stage. Shakespeare in Love is a very entertaining production with period costumes, lots of humor and romance, live renaissance musicians and singers, a marvelously talented cast and even a dog. It’s got everything.” 

Details:

Shakespeare in Love runs approximately 2.5 hours with one 15-minute intermission. Show dates are Sept. 17, 18, 24, and 25 at 8 p.m. and Sept. 19 and 26 at 2 p.m. All audience members, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, must wear masks at all times while inside the Village Players’ building. Tickets are $20 (plus a $1 processing fee for each ticket order) and are available online at www.birminghamvillageplayers.com or by calling the theater box office at (248) 644-2075. The Village Players theatre is located at 34660 Woodward Ave. in Birmingham.

Previous articleFaces & Places: NCJW Helps Outfit Kids for Back to School
Next articleTech-Savvy Teen Uses Artificial Intelligence to Document Antisemitic Hate Speech on Twitter