By Grear Palmer
Three members of the Lusher community appeared in the Nola Project’s production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) in September.
Conor Doremus, who played many roles, including a gangster, cop, and a friar, is a Lusher senior. Doremus has attended three summers of the Nola Project intensive camps. Measure for Measure was Doremus’ first professional play. Another Lusher senior, Carson Koeffler, has worked with the Nola Project for around two years as well. Through his involvement with the intensive camps, Carson has excelled in various roles within Measure for Measure. And Willow Street theater teacher, Ms. Ashley Santos, played the lead character--the nun Isabella.
“As I get older my process as an actor continues to change,” Santos said. “First of all, I have to start my work much earlier! Since I teach full time and, honestly, my memory is not as sharp as it once was, it takes me longer to retain the lines. The problem is, I will not start learning my lines until I feel like I have done the majority of research and script analysis on my character and the play itself.”
“The focus of our rehearsals was collaboration,” Doremus said. “Our director, Mark, would have us run the scene several times, each time talking to us about what we were doing. We would just try new things until we found what felt right.”
Measure for Measure is an original William Shakespeare, taking place in Vienna. Shakespeare’s play is characterized as a comedy yet contains many dark humor and subject matter. The main themes of this play are justice, morality, manipulation, and mercy, which creates an interesting take on present-day corruption.
“I like the thought that I am speaking the same words that actors have spoken for hundreds of years!” Santos said. “The fact that the themes of Shakespeare's plays still hold up today is a testament to his understanding of the basic human condition. One thing that worries me when performing Shakespeare is the panic of forgetting my lines. They are not so easy to just ad lib!”
Current topics of the #MeToo movement are used within this revitalized play through Lord Angelo’s manipulation of power to alter Isabella's virginal status. Other current-day themes of mocking leadership and incarceration are further developed in the production.
The three-hour production took place within the Great Hall entrance room to NOMA. Bright lights were cast onto the museum’s white walls and marble flooring. The grand stairs were also widely used within the actor’s movements and created a dynamic space which interacted with the audience. Throughout the play, viewers had much to dissect as actors and their Hippie-esque costumes were constantly evolving.
“Performing at NOMA was difficult because it is such an odd space,” Doremus said. “It's entirely marble, so it basically swallows sound, making it hard to articulate. But it was pretty nice being able to just look at old paintings when I got bored backstage. Not many Lusher students came. Several teachers were able to come. Before the show, some of the actors interacted with the audience in character to set the scene for the beginning of the play. It was very entertaining to mess with the teachers we saw while in character.”
The Nola Project is a local theater group in New Orleans who produce high quality, live action shows across the city. Their mission is to engage New Orleans’ locals in relevant and intriguing works. More recent works include Sleepy Hollow performed in City Park’s Sculpture Garden.