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Nesbitt bids ATTP farewell in 'The Winter's Tale'

Perdita and Florizel join in a harvest festival rendition of “Thriller.” Sarah Schmidt. (click for larger version)
August 19, 2009
SANDWICH — Reviving an old tale of jealousy, love, and circumstance, Advice to the Players brought "The Winter's Tale" to the summer climate of Sandwich's Old Home Week, and bid its founder a fond farewell.

"The Winter's Tale" is the last play in which founder Caroline Nesbitt will work as artistic director. Nesbitt began creation of Sandwich's Shakespearian theater company in 1998, and has served as artistic director ever since. She will step down this summer, making way for Mark Woollett (who played King Leontes) to step up.

In her farewell in the "Winter's Tale" playbill, Nesbitt wrote of a "circular" feel to the play for her. Nesbitt found a photo of her grandmother as a young girl playing Perdita in another production of "The Winter's Tale." While she plans to stay in town and work on other projects, Nesbitt said that time had come for someone else to take up the reins of the theatre.

"I think that there comes a time for every organization where the founder needs to move on," said Nesbitt. "I never intended to stay here forever, but I did what I dreamed of doing, and I loved every minute of it."

Woollett said he was excited to begin the next season of work at ATTP as acting artistic director. He praised Nesbitt's work in establishing the company and its work with introducing Shakespeare to kids and teenagers, and expressed a hope to expand the company's involvement with local schools.

"In this transitional time for Advice To The Players, our goal isn't to turn this company upside down, but to encourage growth in directions it has always been heading," wrote Woollett. "We'd like to work closely with our local schools, so that other kids can be exposed to our work and become involved in our March productions and summer activities."

Written by William Shakespeare, the play is hard to classify as either a tragedy or a comedy. The first half is more suited for tears, as a king (Leontes) with unfounded jealousy suspects his queen (Hermione) of adultery, trumps up charges against her, attempts to kill his best friend (Polixenes), and condemns his newborn daughter (whom he thinks is Hermione's love child with his best friend) to be exposed to death. The first half ends with the death of the young prince, the death of the queen, and the discovery of the infant princess, Perdita, by a kindly shepherd.

The second half of the play is better suited to laughter, as the grown Perdita falls in love with Polixenes' son. Since Polixenes won't allow them to marry, it becomes a comedy of errors as the two wed and run to Leontes' kingdom, while the shepherd is helped by the thieving rascal Autolycus. In the end, the two wed, and Leontes is reunited with Perdita, and with Hermione, who is miraculously alive.

"This play is not often done because it is very confusing," said Nesbitt, who referred the audience to a summarization of the play inside their playbills.

Confusing or not, the play proved to be a lot of fun for many of the actors and actresses. Richard Moses, who played the singing rascal and thief Autolycus, joined in a chorus of "Breaking Up is Hard to Do," with Mopsa and Dorcas (played Natalie Schultz-Purves and Emma Bickford), as the two shepherdesses fought over one man.

"I've worked with Caroline for four seasons," said Moses. "It's a really fun part - I get to be dancing and singing."

A truly modern moment came in the second act, as Perdita's family hosted a harvest festival. Though the dancing is usually marked with a recreation of English folk dancing, Nesbitt chose Michael Jackson's "Thriller" instead, making audiences cheer.

"With all the Michael Jackson tributes happening now, we thought we should do "Thriller,"" said Nesbitt. "The plays can stand a little (modern nods). It half-killed the cast to learn the dance."

"The Winter's Tale" was sponsored by local Sandwich businesses Mocha Rizing and the Corner House Inn. Advice To The Players will be making an appearance at the upcoming Sandwich Fair, putting on "A Christmas Carol" this December, and planning a production of the Shakespeare favorite "Hamlet" in March of 2010, with performances planned for Inter-Lakes High School.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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