Bringing The Bard Home

It took a fall off a tightrope to bring an innovative take on William Shakespeare’s work to rural Western New York.

Actor Joshua Rice was performing in an Arkansas children’s theatre company of “If You Give a Pig a Pancake” back 2011. He took a 15-foot fall off the wire, broke both his feet, and couldn’t walk for four months.  He moved home to Buffalo to fully recuperate and had the “a-ha” moment when he could finally ride his bike around Silver Lake. He would live here again, launch a theatre company, and target under-served rural communities.  Pretty ambitious for someone just short of his 30th birthday.

So that’s how the theatre company known as Shake on the Lake began back in 2012. It’s now grown to a full fledged theatre enterprise, touring with 90-minute Shakespeare performances. This summer Shake in the Lake brings Richard III to the Springville Center for the Arts Heritage Park Gazebo Aug 1.  Other performances at Silver Lake are Aug. 2, 3 at 6:30pm, and Aug. 4 at 2pm and 6:30pm, all at Perry Public Beach (42 Walker Rd, Perry).

Rice’s vision became an impressive mission to entertain, engage and enrich the rural community (“places where there are more cows than people,” says Rice) by using the beauty of a natural outdoor setting as the Bard’s stage. A key component is a commitment to education and outreach, and adopting eco-friendly and green business practices.

Rice says, “It’s a really great way to give back to a community that’s given me so much.” More than a free entertainment option, Shake on the Lake’s outreach program is building a theatre community for tomorrow, too. “We’re working with students during the school year in an outreach program, “he continues.

Shake on the Lake operates on a lean budget, with support coming in fee for services, fundraising, and support from the New York State Council on the Arts DEC program.

A point of pride for Rice is Voices Uncaged,  a unique prison outreach program at the Groveland Correctional Facility, now in its third year.  Rice says, “We work with inmates to create productions. This is work we really believe in.” Shakespeare’s bawdy humor and the human element in his work really reaches this audience. “They are eager and excited student actors,” says Rice, and “they hang on every word the way that other audiences don’t. They are active and cheering and they boo the villains. They are also supportive of each other and want to do well. They want it to look good. Reputation is important in that setting and they work hard to surprise people.”

From the lakefront to correction institutions , Shake on the Lake’s good work reminds us of the Bard’s astute words that “all the world’s a stage.”

For more information, check out Shake on the Lake’s Facebook page, here.

First Look: The New York Puppet Festival

Dan Hurlin Demolishing Everything with Amazing Speed.

Rural communities are rarely the focus of cultural festivals. When you think of small towns, the first thing that usually comes to mind are seasonal festivals, or county fairs. In Perry, NY however, that is changing, as the New York State Puppet Festival is getting ready to rid the small town of Perry with that preconceived notion that culture cannot be present in small towns. Organizer Josh Rice, will bring world class talent, performances, and artists to take part in the festival. The festival will also allow for opportunities to discuss the art of puppetry and theatre. This is the first time a festival of this magnitude has been hosted in Perry.

“Why not Perry? Why not the rural?” says Rice. “Why not show the community the kind of work that inspires me as an artist and expose them to something new?

This effort is part of Rice’s mission to bring theatre back to his hometown. In 2012, Rice started Shake on the Lake, a company that specializes in producing Shakespearian works with small casts, and also tours with their productions. 

“Growing up I didn’t know what theatre was,” says Rice, “After seeing comedy improv at SUNY

Brockport, and getting a chance to intern at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London and to really see the possibilities in theatre, it changed my life.”

Rice is excited to bring what he has learned back to where he grew up. “To be able to bring theatre back to my community, and, maybe, to other kids like me—who don’t know what is out there in the world until you are exposed to it—that feels like I’m contributing to something greater.”

Sabaso with Koryu Nishikawa.

The NYSPF is made possible by a grant from the  Decentralization Program, a part of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. The grant was administered by the Arts Council for Wyoming County.    

“The impact of arts projects like the New York State Puppet Festival on communities like ours is profound,” says Jackie Hoyt, the executive director of The Arts Council for Wyoming Country. “We now can say that our communities can see works of art never seen before in the entirety of the state, right here in our communities.”

The artists who will be attending this years NYSPF come from all over the world and include:

  • Dan Hurlin, Winner of the Rome Prize & Alpert Award in Theatre, a Guggenheim

Fellow, and Director of the Graduate Theatre Program at Sarah Lawrence College in

an exhibits of his works

  • Koryu Nishikawa V, Japanese National Cultural Treasure and fifth-generation

headmaster of Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo Theatre Company

  • Concrete Temple Theatre presenting the internationally-acclaimed family show

“Gepetto: Extraordinary Extremities”

  • Tom Lee & Lisa Gonzales premiering their dance/puppetry hybrid piece, “Place (No

Place).” Tom Lee will also present a shadow puppet piece for children, “Tomte.”

  • Sam Jay Gold presenting his new Czech-marionette and Balinese shadow

puppetry-inspired piece, “Untold Stories from the War with the Newts.”

  • Josh Rice presenting his original puppet piece, “The Marooned.”
  • Hamida Khatri, a Pakistani-born puppeteer and visual artist, teaching puppetry

workshops based on her social justice program, Project KALI

For more information on the New York Puppet Festival, click here.

Promotional Consideration Paid For By The Theatre Alliance Of Buffalo.

First Look: ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Shake on the Lake

When one thinks of theatre, one usually thinks of large cities, with big flashy marquees, and nowhere to park. There is always a large city feel when you go to the theatre. If you are not one who lives in a big city, you should still be able to go see wonderful live entertainment, and that is what one company in Perry, New York is doing. Shake on the Lake specializes in bringing theatre to rural areas, and this Christmas season they are doing just that with their production of “A Christmas Carol.”

“The script has been adapted for a rural audience, providing audience accessibility to the story,” says Pilar McKay, Co-Founder and Marketing Director of Shake on the Lake, “we have two actors in the cast, one who plays Scrooge, and the other who plays everyone else.”

This huge undertaking seems like a challenge to a theatre company, but Shake On The Lake specializes in taking large stories, and telling them with smaller casts. “We just celebrated our seventh season this past summer,” says McKay, “we are known for producing classic established shows, and by having actors from all over the country in our shows.” 

McKay says that there is also a magical puppetry element to the show that audiences will really enjoy.

Along with performing theatre in rural communities, Shake on the Lake also has a list of educational program offerings including theater classes that are taught in schools and in local prisons around the Perry community. “People have to have the tools to tell their stories,” says McKay, “we are glad that the community has been so receptive to what we are doing.”

Shake on the Lake tours around the eight counties of Western New York during the summer performing their shows, and for the winter months, they perform holiday classics for the audiences in the underserved theatre communities.

“This year we are a part of It’s A Wonderful Festival in Perry, New York,” says McKay, “we are exciting to share what is happening in Perry with people who might not be familiar with what we have to offer.”

It’s A Wonderful Festival is an arts festival that brings artists from all over the country to celebrate the season and their art, as well as the Perry community. “I think visitors will be very surprised to see what is going on in Perry. We have a Main Street all decorated for Christmas. It is very Instagramable,” laughs McKay.

“A Christmas Carol” runs December 15 – December 23, 2017, and is produced by Shake on the Lake in Perry, New York at 37 South Main Street . For more information, click here.