Saturday, June 25, 2022

This Actress Fulfilled Her Dream To Bring Classical Free Theater To New Yorkers In A Historic Setting

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“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid,” wrote Audre Lorde.

Actress Billie Andersson had that vision. One night when she was walking near the Brooklyn Bridge along the East River Esplanade down to The Battery she noticed the majestic circular sandstone fort, Castle Clinton in Battery Park.

“I had never seen it before,” says Andersson of the open air national monument that was initially created to prevent a British invasion in 1812. “And I immediately thought it would be perfect for performing Shakespeare, like Romeo and Juliet. ””

That accidental encounter set in motion Andersson’s quest to bring classical theater to the space. “I had to find out who had stewardship of Castle Clinton, which is the National Park Service,” she shares.

Because Castle Clinton is a national monument there are many restrictions about using the space. “The NPS takes very good care of the castle. They are responsible that no damage of any kind occurs.”

It took close to three years to start the nonprofit, Shakespeare Downton, raise the money, and get all the necessary permissions. “There were endless challenges, every single day,” recalls Andersson. thing to make happen. ”

But Andersson and her husband, actor, director and legendary acting teacher Geoffrey Horne, were undeterred. “The greatest difficulty was how to create a theater. We cannot store anything there and nothing can be changed. Our way through all this was to agree to remove the audio equipment and the chairs every night. Everything is packed into a U-Haul and taken to a parking lot. ”

Now in its sixth season, Shakespeare Downtown remains devoted to presenting free performances of classical theater in this sumptuous outdoor setting. “It is a magical place, almost hidden in the beautiful Battery,” says Andersson of Castle Clinton.

“The weather is strangely cool and breezy with the most wonderful sunsets. At the end of the play when Joan says she cannot“ live without the light of the sky ”and“ feel the wind in the trees ”it is a very moving experience to look up to the edge of the castle walls and see and feel the wind blowing the trees while the sun is setting. ”

Not only have they done Romeo and Juliet, prior productions include Richard III, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet and The Three Sisters“We work on the play for a year,” says Andersson. “It is an intense labor of love.”

This month Shakespeare Downtown is doing free performances of Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw. Free tickets are distributed the day of the performance at 5:45 before the 6:30pm performance, Thursday to Sunday, June 23 to June 26. The show is directed by Horne. Not only has he been teaching at the Lee Strasberg Institute for close to 40 years, as an actor he has worked with countless legends including Arthur Penn, Harold Clurman, Sidney Lumet, Otto Preminger, David Lean and Hal Prince.

Andersson plays Joan of Arc the heroic French farm girl who lead the fight against the British during the 100 Years War. Shaw wrote the play using the historical records of her trial for heresy in 1431. “Shaw took her real words from the actual trial, “Adds Andersson.“ Joan is one of the most beautiful people in the history of the world. She is filled with hope, purity, courage, devotion and dedication. Everyone who hears her words can feel her spirit. ”

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