By Caroline O’Donovan, third-year in the College
Photo by Lloyd DeGrane

We try to invite student organizations that have a talent to share.”
—Kirsten Siron
Campus Activities Coordinator

The small stands of trees on Bartlett Quad were transformed into the Forest of Arden on a recent summer afternoon, as student members of the Dean’s Men acting troupe turned William Shakespeare’s As You Like It into mobile merriment.

After performing the first two acts at Bartlett, the cast moved Rosalind, Orlando, Silvius, and supporting characters across the street to Hutchinson Courtyard, where they gave about 50 lunchtime spectators a taste of the pastoral comedy. As in the original, notes of admiration for Rosalind were scattered around the courtyard, though it’s doubtful that Shakespeare ever wrote the line, “Girl, you fine.”

The production was part of ORCSA’s summer programming, which offers a festive series of performances, dance lessons, movie nights, and discounted sporting events that give the University’s summer session a welcome dose of playfulness. The Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities provided free milkshakes to the audience of As You Like It, continuing a tradition that has earned such summer performances the nickname “Shakes and Shakespeare.”

Whether they come more for the shakes or the Shakespeare, the audience enjoys a sunny hour or two in the ivy-covered courtyard, which in summer takes on the feel of a village piazza. Other distinctive summer activities include impromptu outdoor dancing sessions by the University’s Argentine Tango Club, which holds “Guerilla Tango” events everywhere from Millennium Park downtown to the Law School reflecting pool. At night, students relax on Bartlett Quad with ORCSA’s Movie on the Quad series.

An Engaging Staging

The director of As You Like It, third-year Evan Garrett, first thought of staging a mobile performance during his first year, when he was assistant stage manager for the Dean’s Men production of Macbeth. While in New York earlier this summer for an intensive, four-week, theater-training program, Garrett was skimming As You Like It between sessions.

Once back in Chicago, he began scoping out the campus for scene locations. An especially lucky find was the courtyard behind the Joseph Regenstein Library, sunk down below Bartlett Quad, where Rosalind and Celia played croquet and talked about love. Says Garrett, “That was a hidden gem I found while I was looking and I thought, if this is here I have to use it.”

The cast members drew in an audience with Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” blaring from a boom box, followed by the spectacle of Orlando and Charles engaging in a water-themed wrestling match. After much splashing and a little name-calling, Orlando, played by Caroline Gelber, emerged victorious, winning the match and Rosalind’s heart. It was court-wrestler Charles, portrayed by third-year Berenice Fernandez, who ended up facedown in the water and had to be carried out by Elle Riley-Condit.

A member of the Dean’s Men since her second year, Riley-Condit has performed in many campus productions. “Basically all we did to rehearse was read the script and talk about how to make it fun,” she says. She especially enjoyed Claire Stone’s “all the world’s a stage” speech as the character Jacques. “There’s usually so much emphasis placed on that speech, but Evan purposely played it down,” she says. “We were just eating Cheez-Its on a blanket on the quad.”

New Fans and New Players

For Katie Goldberg, her role as Phoebe introduced her to the Dean’s Men. Goldberg, who plans to audition for University Theater shows this fall, says the unique production was inspiring. “It’s going to affect the way I work with designers and actors in the future,” she says.

Riley-Condit, who sits on the board of the Dean’s Men and plans to coach actors for Henry V this fall, is excited about gaining new members. In As You Like It she played Duke Senior, leader of a banished crew that spent much of the performance picnicking, singing, inviting audience participation, and comically heckling passersby. “What was nice about this is a lot of people who haven’t been Dean’s Men got involved,” she says.

The play was a welcome change of pace for audience members like Eric Roberts, a graduate student in the School of Social Service Administration, who says he did not come to the weekly ORCSA barbecue for the shakes. “When I’m down here, I look for a break in my studies,” he says. He attended with hopes of “buffing up on some Shakespeare.”

The Dean’s Men productions have always been popular, says Campus Activities Coordinator Kirsten Siron. “We try to invite student organizations that have a talent to share,” she says.

UChicago Summertime Escapes

Ice cream socials in the Reynolds Club, serving up Istria gelato and sorbetto, are another big summertime draw for ORCSA, as are AMC movie tickets for just $6 – $7.50 each. Sonya Ringer, an ORCSA summer intern and rising fourth-year, says the group’s reduced-price tickets for Shrek! The Musical sold out this summer.

The audience that gathered on the courtyard lawn for the Dean’s Men included a party of Laboratory Schools students clad in bathing suits and sitting on pool towels. But it was second-year Amanda Fink, portraying Duke Frederick, who found herself soaking wet in the courtyard fountain at the end of Act IV.

To round out the production, the troupe invited the audience to a late-night performance of the final act, to be followed by a celebration. Neither actors nor audience seemed ready to let the summer afternoon go. “I love lewd jokes and singing loudly,” says Sid Branca, AB’09. “So I intend to see the wedding scene tonight.”

Originally published on August 23, 2010.