July 21, 2021

Wild Weather is No Match For Shakespeare Theatre

IMPALED AND UPTURNED: The set for the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s summer productions took a brutal beating from a storm on July 6. But “The Comedy of Errors” and “Snug” are back on track.

By Anne Levin

As if coming back from COVID-19 wasn’t enough, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey had a new hurdle to overcome this month when a ferocious storm ripped up the set of its Outdoor Stage — just days before the scheduled openings of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and Snug, artistic director Bonnie Monte’s homage to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

But Monte and her staff were not about to let this latest assault keep the company off the Outdoor Stage, which is in Morristown. After scrambling to get things back on track, the opening was delayed by only one week. The shows are scheduled through August 1.

Monte spoke about the storm, the recovery, surviving the pandemic, and more, in a telephone conversation a day after the deluge. The company had been scheduled to rehearse for the upcoming performances, but the ravaged set – some of it was actually impaled – made that impossible.

“We are fighting the clock to get everything not just rebuilt, but rehearsed,” she said. “The weather during the entire 10-day period when we are typically scheduled to set up, rehearse, and tech, was rain, rain, and more rain. Then, when the big storm hit, we weren’t ready. So we have had no rehearsal yet. These are very complicated shows, so we are getting really nervous. But the show must go on, as they say, and we will open. My company is extraordinary.”

COVID and climate were just the latest challenges to the Shakespeare troupe. “When the pandemic hit, we were actually plowing our way out of a massive crisis already,” said Monte. “We were one of the many victims of a huge ransomware attack that spread across America. We were one of the nonprofits that got hit. It almost shut us down. We were just slowly emerging and starting to rebuild our data and get things back on track. So we kind of went from the frying pan into the fire.”

Monte said navigating the past 14 months has been the most challenging experience of her career. But there have been silver linings.

“We were one of the only theaters last summer to actually build a pandemic-safe performance venue,” she said. “It was modest, but it was something. And I think it gave a lot of people hope, and much needed exposure, to some semblance of normalcy again. It’s so important to experience the arts live, and we were able to make that happen.”

Last summer’s performances bought the company enough time to carefully contemplate what kind of online content to offer. “Pandemic Playhouse,” filmed on stage without an audience but with professional crews, offered five productions. The company also initiated virtual book clubs.

“We found all kinds of ways to stay in touch with our audience,” Monte said. “And the group of actors we have was a huge source of energy and inspiration through the first 12-month period. They inspired me to write Snug.”

As opening days approached for The Comedy of Errors and Snug, the set was essentially built. But there was still much to be done when the big storm hit because of the delays caused by rain in the preceding weeks. “We were trying to rehearse in the blazing sun, and had to take a break every 20 minutes because of the heat,” said Monte. “We could barely get anything done. Then the storm wiped out all of my sound cues anyway.”

Luckily, there were no injuries to cast or crew during the pounding rain and wind gusts clocked at up to 70 miles per hour. “Thankfully, the destruction was wreaked on inanimate objects only — all of our crew members are safe but for the instantaneous despair the sight of our mangled set caused in all of us,” Monte wrote in a letter to patrons and volunteers after the storm.

Last week, Monte was hoping the set would be rebuilt in time for a few hours of rehearsal before the opening. “We’ve got 12 hours instead of two days to get ready for two shows,” she said. “We are feeling quite challenged at the moment. But we’re not walking around moaning and groaning. We’ve got work to do.”

The efforts clearly worked. The company was able to open both plays last week. Performances continue through the evening of Sunday, August 1. Some extra shows have been added to accommodate those who had bought tickets for performances that were canceled.

The Outdoor Stage is located at Saint Elizabeth University, 2 Convent Road, Morristown. Visit Shakespearenj.org for ticket information.