English Teacher Performs Shakespeare

Rory Wainwright, Reporter

Mina Harker is a fictional character conjured up by Bram Stoker’s imagination in the late 1800s. She came to life in the book Dracula. She has been portrayed by actors such as Winona Ryder as well as many others. A few years ago, Mina was brought to the stage once more, this time by Rever high school teacher, Sarah Coon. The production went on in October, under the moon and stars, leaving the cast and audience to view a world classic novel and play performed in a new way illuminated by the world around them.

Coon has been participating in The Ohio Shakespeare Festival for six years. The company has been active for eighteen years. Artistic Directors Nancy Cates and Terry Burgler are the original founder for this group.

While the company performs plays and musicals regularly, it is not just for people looking to act. This group provides a space for people to write, organize, and produce. Coon explains her role within the festival community.

“I am an actor/manager. I act in plays but I take on other roles, I’ve written two plays that will be produced in the fall one about Maid Marian and about Frankenstein, I teach workshops It kind of varies what I am doing with them season to season. We have two spaces, in summer we do Shakespeare under the stars [at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens] and in April to May indoors, plays that aren’t by Shakespeare,” Coon said.

This company has many event coordinators and people who help make sure the process is smooth. Tess Burgler commented on her position with the company and how she participates.

“I am an acting company member and the Managing Director. I perform in (nearly) all the plays and I run the administrative side of the business (box office, customer service, school relations, building maintenance, marketing, and more),” Burgler said.

Plays and musicals today are not always accessible to everyone, making it hard for some people to experience the theatre. Coon explains what the main goal of the festival is.

“The aims of the festival is to make theatre accessible to a wide audience when we’re outside we bring Shakespeare to Akron and give people a chance to original practices as close to how we think Shakespeare would have done it. During the year out season is more diverse as we try to get the widest audience, we do a family show, a musical to hit that crowd as well, just to how the wide range of theatrical offerings out there and just to tell a good story,” Coon said.

Many children do not know what they want to do for the rest of their lives, but Coon started her career at a young age. Coon spoke about how she got involved in acting.

“I acted when I was a kid, in middle school and high school that’s what I did. I went to Kent to get a degree in theatre and I stopped to do acting and writing and I joined the festival to do backstage [objectives] but they needed someone for a small role and I filled in and just grew with the company,” Coon said.

Getting on stage and acting can be nerve wracking for some people, even for those who have for copious periods of time. Coon talks about her emotions before a performance.

“When . . . performing in rehearsal you’re so focused on the work, you’re building trusting your castmates, and there’s the whole other piece when an audience comes in, you can know a show by heart and I get stage fright, there is this huge adrenaline rush and you have no control over how a audience will react, you offer up your heart and soul and hope they won’t stomp on it. It’s like you’re dating the audience to a certain aspect. Heart pounding and getting out some of that excess energy and hoping it goes well,” Coon said.

The group performs outside in the summer at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens. Burgler explains where the shows take place in each season.

“Performances take place near the lagoon at historic Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens each summer, and then we move indoors for our fall/winter season at Greystone Hall in downtown Akron,” Burgler said.

` Unless the weather conditions are too hazardous to perform, they must portray their show just as they would with a clear sky.   Coon shared one of her memories as the weather played into their shows.

“We were getting ready to go on before the show in the summer, and the green show, a pre show of singing and dancing, it gets the crowd warmed up, Stan Hywet is outside and it started raining, and the rain kept getting harder until it started to downpour and we started shouting to be heard over the downpour, and the audience was losing their minds, going through this [time together]. We went backstage to wait it out, we started playing instruments and playing and dancing and singing and all having this honest moment together but we are having an enjoyable moment together,” Coon said.

Coon spoke about balancing her performances with classes.

“I guess for me it was never an option to not keep doing it, it has been apart of my life for so long and it compliments me. When we do plays here, I have a feel for not just the story, but how it should be performed. This  gives me a creative outlet, it is nice to go somewhere to be someone completely  opposite of me, a totally different side,” Coon said.

There are many different careers to choose from. Often, children are asked what they want to do from a young age. Coon gave advice to the children who want to be actors and actresses.

“Practice, and go on as many auditions as you can, take every avaialable oppertunity to practice your craft. Try to make yourself as well rounded as an artist as you possibly can. Get comfortable with rejection, it will happen a lot,” Coon says.

In her spare time, Coon works with a group called Shakespeare Behind Bars. Coon explained what this group is.

“I work with the women in prison. Art can transform. To be able to work with this theatre group and take Shakespeare to a prison setting, no matter what the context, it has the power to change people’s lives and makes them feel a way they weren’t execting to feel,” Coon said.

This summer the company will be performing multiple shows, including Hamlet and Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare. After the summer, they will perform other productions including The Rocky Horror Show, She Kills Monsters, and Miss Holmes. They also provide classes to students in the summer such as on stage combat workshops and free student nights for Shakespeare.