BERLIN — Two young men engaged in a sword fight less than 1,000 yards from Route 50 this week. In fact, they engaged in several. The men were actors, part of the Brown Box Theatre Project, preparing to unveil their performance of Twelfth Night, Or What You Will by William Shakespeare at venues throughout the area all this month.
Earlier this year, the company announced it would produce a free series of plays ala Shakespeare in the park that, if successful, could be the beginning of an annual series. The troupe began holding fundraisers and soliciting sponsors early this spring and were able to raise enough put together this season’s performances and possibly establish the project here as a permanent one.
Kyler Taustin, who grew up in Ocean City and spearheaded the effort to perform on the beach, has been pushing the envelope when it comes to local theater for more than two years. He and his colleagues at the Brown Box Theatre Company have presented both new and established plays at the Globe in Berlin, giving locals access to both avant-garde and traditional small theater plays.
After securing the funding, he had to lure actors from New York and Boston to spend the summer working at the beach instead of playing at it, but it wasn’t too tough a sell, according to Chelsea Schmidt who traveled down from Boston to play Viola.
“I was on board immediately,” she said. “I told Kyler, ‘Just tell me when.’”
While she auditioned for the role, she also lobbied for it and was happy to bring her extensive experience to both the character and the mission.
In addition to Viola, she’s played Vergus in Much Ado About Nothing demonstrating that, in direct opposition to her 17th Century counterparts she could play a woman playing a man or just play a man.
“I guess I’m typecast,” she said.
For those unfamiliar with Twelfth Night, it’s a mistaken identity comedy that opens with a shipwreck survivor emerging from the surf onto the beach. There are obviously a number of natural backgrounds suited to the production locally but Taustin said growing the audience has as much to do with the selection as the area’s natural settings.
While Schmidt wasn’t shocked at how far along the production was when she arrived, it would be fair to say that she was impressed with the production and her fellow actors.
“This is the first time since graduating from college that everything has been so organized,” she said. “It already felt like we had a show.”
As with the other actors, Schmidt works in in small independent productions whenever she can. Taustin and his Brown Box colleagues have put on plays pretty much anywhere they could get lights and enough seats to have an audience, so they are used to working on the fly with few production resources.
Twelfth Night has comparatively high production value. While not slick, the sets are they kind you’d expect from a professional acting troupe but to get that value, the group had to make every penny count.
One way they accomplished this was by doing some of the earliest rehearsals with the tags still on the costumes. Schmidt feigned terror in recounting an incident wherein she accidentally tore the tag from an as-yet approved costume piece.
“I actually had a nightmare where I lost all my tags and receipts,” she said.
But all is well now, the costumes, sets and actors are ready to go and, if it is as successful as Taustin hopes it will be, next weekend will be the inauguration of a tradition of free off-season outdoor performances annually.