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Wrestling meets Shakespeare in production of 'As You Like It'

When picking inspirations for productions of Shakespeare, Hulk Hogan is probably not at the top of any dramatist's list. For Gillett, however, the Hulkster was the perfect inspiration for his mounting of the Shakespearean play.

For the past six years, Bill Gillett, director of Carroll Community College's drama program, has directed an extracurricular Shakespeare play in the school's outdoor Rotary Amphitheatre using both students and members of the community. This year, cast and crew have come to put together an outdoor rendition of the Shakespeare play "As You Like It" as part of the school's annual Shakespeare in the Park program.

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Each year, Gillett brings a little something different to the Shakespeare performances, with last year's "Romeo and Juliet" pitched to audiences as "What if Justin Bieber fell in love with Miley Cyrus?" Gillett said "As You Like It" doesn't have quite the easy pitch his earlier shows have had; he said the show was complicated enough as written, and it didn't need any additional structures imposed on it.

Despite following the text closely, the performance is costumed in the modern day and will still have some additional modernizing elements.

One of the key scenes in the play take place in the midst of a wrestling match. Gillett said he wanted this production to focus more on the physicality of wrestling than earlier productions of the show. To ensure a physical and safe set, the entire play is performed on top of wrestling mats, allowing actors to tumble, fight and toss each other safely. Gillett said he briefly flirted with the idea of setting the entire piece in the world of professional wrestling.

"There was a moment where I thought about placing this play in the framework of the WWE," Gillett said. "That's a difficult theme to carry through and make it stick, particularly on a budget. We decided instead to focus on the ideas of physicality and place the Hulk Hogan inspiration into the character of Charles the wrestler."

Ben Hopkins, who plays the lead role of Orlando, said the wrestling has been difficult for him, an actor without the fighting background of his character. Hopkins said he loves to be a part of Shakespeare's world.

"It's different from anything else you'd do," Hopkins said. "You have to live large, but you still have to act and pursue your goals as you would in anything else. The emotions are more out there and in front. It can be bare. It's almost like being naked in front of the audience."

The production features dance music more suited to setting the scenes of a stage production of "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo" than one of Shakespeare's most celebrated comedies.

Between each scene, large speakers in front of the stage blast songs like "Love Injection" by Trussel or pieces by bands like Daft Punk.

"The music is fun, eclectic and modern," Gillett said. "It puts you in a great sense of the play, which is all comedy and great silliness."

Gillett said modernizing Shakespeare can be an important step to bridge the Bard's sensibilities with those of the audiences, and make the humor more recognizable.

"I think it's much more approachable and fun when it's something more identifiable. There is historical precedent for it," Gillett said. "Shakespeare used Elizabethan clothes because it was Elizabethan times. When they did 'Midsummer,' they didn't used togas. They used contemporary clothing, so we do too."

Though classes ended a month ago at the college, a collection of students have returned each day for the past four-and-a-half weeks to put together the production. In recent years, Gillett said, students have become more and more excited to be a part of the summer shows.

For college alumnus Susanna Herrick, of Westminster, the opportunity to perform in one of Shakespeare's strongest comedies was all the reason she needed to participate in the show. The play juggles four romantic storylines, as a French Duke's daughter is banished to the forest. Herrick plays the play's heroine Rosalind, the romantic lead.

"She's a very headstrong woman. In the world of Shakespeare, she's one of the most independent and outspoken women ever written. She really designs her own fate," Herrick said. "She's probably the most star role I could ever think of playing in a Shakespeare play. It's the role of a lifetime."

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If You Go

What: "As You Like It"

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, June 25, 26 and 27. Live music will be performed prior to each show in the amphitheatre.

Where: Rotary Amphitheatre, Carroll Community College, 1501 Washington Road, Westminster

Cost: Free

For more information: Visit http://www.carrollcc.edu or call 410-386-8000

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