Jake Berger as Angelo and Ellie Bartz as Isabella in Advice To The Players' 20th Anniversary Summer Mainstage Production of William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
August 14, 2019CONCORD – Advice to the Players started in 1999 as an educational program for students in Tamworth; 20 years later members of the company from teens through adult professional actors were performing in Concord's bustling Eagle Square. ATTP is celebrating it's 20th anniversary with its founders and leaders marveling at the company's evolution and impact.
The Sandwich-based Shakespeare company recently finished its summer production of "Measure for Measure" at the Sandwich Fairgrounds and the town hall stage for Old Home Week. On Friday night the company was given the first ever opportunity to perform in Concord, a show that reflects the company's evolution over two decades.
Caroline Nesbitt formed ATTP in 1999 as a theater education program. While working at the Community School in Tamworth, Nesbitt said was working with a group of teens and wanted to give them something to focus on. She also had a small child at the time and as looking for things she could do closer to home.
She came up with a program of having the teens work with professional actors to perform Shakespeare.
Nesbitt said she heard comments that the kids wouldn't be into Shakespeare at all, though she kept the program up.
"It turned out we were actually transforming kids' lives," Nesbitt said. "We had kids nobody ever cheered for."
Those kids have gone onto do more theater. She said they have created many generations of kids who are well versed in iambic pentameter.
Over the decades, the company has evolved, though it still has that core of education and mentoring youth. Performers in the company include professionals, community members, and students with ample opportunities for teens to learn from experienced adults.
After 10 years, Nesbitt left the company in the hands of other leaders.
"I couldn't be more delighted to see how it's changing and evolving," Nesbitt said. "It's really wonderful. It's like watching something – not come full circle, it's almost as if it's on a launching pad."
She said she's thrilled with the new generation that has taken it over, saying this now belongs to them.
Over the years ATTP has made connections with many different partners, such as PSU and Shakespeare & Company in Massachusetts.
"I'm just hoping it keeps on growing and growing," Nesbitt said. "I think this show in Concord is just miraculous. This company has enough legs to stand on its own."
The company is currently under the leadership of Executive Director Jessie Chapman and Creative Director Diana Evans. It now has its own headquarters and performance space at The Arts Center on 12 Main in Sandwich.
"I feel very proud that the company has made it this far and grown this much," Chapman said.
Chapman said it feels like ATTP is needed and has a place in the community. She said with everything going on in the world people can still come to Shakespeare for wisdom. ATTP is also a place where people can come together.
"I feel empowered, particularly since I adopted my daughter for this to be around for another 20 years so she can be around for it," Chapman said.
ATTP was given the big opportunity to perform in Concord. Chapman Stephen Duprey of the Duprey Company, which manages a series of major hotels in Concord, wanted to offer a free public Shakespeare performance in Concord and reached out to ATTP asking if they would be interested. Chapman said they had been working on a date for this for a while.
For many of the performers from Sandwich, Tamworth, and other rural areas, Chapman said coming into Concord was like coming into the big city.
The venue did pose some challenges. The performers were not used to projecting their voices in that space and with a busy environment in the background. There were also some challenges having a wider crowd that came in and out of Eagle Square. Chapman said they do plan to come back and will use this experience to make some changes for next time.
"This is a beautiful venue for Shakespeare," Chapman said. "Mr. Duprey was really happy."
She said it was nice to see new faces in the audience and be able to perform for a wider group of people.
Some big things are around the corner for ATTP. The company is organizing "Fall Festival of Shakespeare," a Shakespeare program for students across the state. Over a nine week period students will take part in classes in acting, language arts, and others while working with teaching artists and professional performers. This will culminate in a production of "Romeo and Juliet" at the Silver Center at PSU on Nov. 9.
For more information on Advice to the Players visit www.advicetotheplayers.org.