The Orlando Shakespeare Theater opens "The Taming of the Shrew" this Friday, Sept. 13, as the first Shakespearean production of its 25th season. The play has significance for the troupe: It was the first play performed in 2001 when the Shakes moved into the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. And it was the first play the troupe ever performed. That was back in 1989 at Lake Eola Park, when the company performed as the Orlando Shakespeare Festival.
Stuart Omans, the University of Central Florida professor who founded the Shakespeare Theater, remembers events leading up to that 1989 production of "The Taming of the Shrew" as resembling another Shakespeare play: "The Comedy of Errors."
Here's a look back:
• The casting: A casting call took place at a small boutique hotel in New York City. Omans was shocked when nearly 2,000 actors showed up to try their luck with what was then an unknown troupe.
"Here we had all this talent in the lobby … and no place to go," Omans says.
Once a suitable location was found, seeing all those performers became a grueling marathon.
"We auditioned from 7 in the morning until 2 in the morning for three solid days," he recalls.
• The climate: The troupe had constructed a wooden stage at Lake Eola's Disney Amphitheater — but didn't count on the unpredictable November weather.
"We didn't realize when the dewpoint drops, then you have a stage that's a skating rink," Omans says. Actors were so unnerved by the slippery stage they nearly refused to perform. The entire stage had to repainted with sand-infused paint, to give the actors traction. "We made a sandpaper stage," Omans says.
• The critics: During rehearsals for "Shrew," the amphitheater's benches were occupied — by Orlando's homeless. "They would give critiques afterwards," Omans remembers. "They were smart, they had very specific theater criticism."
• The costumes: In an unprecedented move, Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company agreed to load its costumes to the fledgling troupe, the first American company to have such an arrangement. "Boots, wigs, swords — they sent it all," Omans says.
But disaster struck when U.S. customs agents in Miami insisted on inspecting every costume piece individually. The Shakespeare team was biting its nails: The outfits would never make it to Orlando in time for the show. Eventually, a U.S. senator intervened, Omans remembers, and the actors were properly outfitted for opening night.
One actor got a particular surprise when he looked at the name inked inside his borrowed boots: Theatrical legend Sir Laurence Olivier. Deadpans Omans: "It's kind of hard to fill those shoes."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun