Unconventional theater company takes on production of Shakespeare

Actors and actresses had the opportunity to test-run their production of “Music, Magic & Murder,” one of the previous installments in the “Shakespeare Studio” series, in October of 2019. Photo courtesy of Andreas Zaloumis

By Claire Van Zee | Reporter

When asked how she might describe InSite Theatre Co., founder and executive director Luann Jennings describes it in one word — scrappy. But in a good way.

Established in 2017, InSite centered its initiative around the term “creative placemaking,” the idea of using art and design as tools for transforming communities, strengthening local identity and leading social change.

“We’re trying to build our arts and cultural offerings and community as a way to make people feel more attached to Waco, to care more about Waco and to care more about each other,” Jennings said.

While the company is interested in many routes of promoting this idea of “creative placemaking,” currently its focus is on theater.

The company is working on a three-part Shakespeare series titled “Shakespeare Studio,” which is a medley of Shakespeare’s scenes and monologues tied together around a specific theme.

The upcoming last leg of the series, “Shakespeare Studio: Law and Order,” will begin at 7 p.m. March 2, 3, 9 and 10 at Brotherwell Brewery at 400 E. Bridge St.

“If people don’t know the plays already, they might not entirely get what’s going on in terms of the plot, but there is something kind of fun in that. You can see this five-to-10 minute piece out of context and take it for what is happening there,” Jennings said.

Unlike other Waco theater companies, InSite is missing one seemingly important aspect: a physical theater.

In line with the company name, InSite performs at different sites all over downtown Waco, such as coffee shops and outdoor breweries. However unconventional it might be, Jennings believes there are certain benefits that site-based theater has to offer.

For instance, it helps to break down barriers for people who might think they must have a certain prestige to go to the theater, Jennings said.

“Theater as a whole has suffered from this idea that everyday people just watch TV and go to the movies, but some other person goes to the theater. We want to lower those barriers and make going to the theater in Waco just as normal as going home and watching television,” Jennings said.

Breshena Crosby, a 2017 Baylor Theatre graduate, will be acting as many characters in the upcoming “Law and Order” production. Even though this is her first time working with InSite, Crosby said she is looking forward to the challenge of playing an array of characters, who are completely different from one another, in one production.

“Shakespeare is so different and the way they put the scenes together to make the theme ‘Law and Order’ is just so interesting,” Crosby said. “I can’t wait to see how the audience will receive them all together in the way we’ve cut them.”

Members of the theater company chose excerpts from plays such as “Much Ado About Nothing,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “The Tempest,” “Julius Caesar” and more for the production.

The way theater companies choose to re-enact Shakespeare varies from traditional to modern adaptations. Jennings said InSite’s adaptation lands somewhere in the middle, sticking with the traditional Elizabethan language but in modern dress.

Jennings believes modern dress affects how the audience thinks about the context of the play.

“We want people to come in and go, ‘Oh, well, these people look just like me, they’re just speaking in poetry,”” Jennings said.

The company chose to produce a Shakespeare series in order to test out the local audience and find interested actors in preparation for a summer Shakespeare festival titled “Shakespeare in the Park.”

Jennings’ hope is that the productions will enlighten the local community with uncommon, quality entertainment.

“I want their reaction to be, well that was cool,” Jennings said. “That’s not what I was expecting, or I’ve never seen anything like that.”