Occupy Wall Street was so last year. This summer, it’s all about occupying Sherwood.
Literature’s most beloved outlaw is the star of the Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s summer production, “Robin Hood: Occupy Sherwood.” The show opens tomorrow night at Frederick Community College and boasts a cast, and a message, that are all about the people.
“Generally the summer projects we do, we think of them more as community outreach programs,” says Julie Herber, associate artistic director at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre and “Robin Hood” director. “We usually try and pick something that has a larger cast.”
While roles in the majority of the Maryland Ensemble Theatre productions are typically reserved for company members, auditions for this summer’s play were advertised at Frederick Community College, Hood College and throughout the greater Frederick area.
“Robin Hood’s” 49-member cast ranges in age from seven to 50-plus and includes some actors commuting from as far as Silver Spring.
“We have people from all over,” says Sarah Shulman, who wrote “Occupy Sherwood.” “A handful of company members, ensemble students ... a whole bunch of new faces from all over.”
When Herber was deciding on a show for the summer 2012 season, she turned to Shulman, 26, a long-time company member and a student at Frederick Community College. Although Herber says the idea for a “Robin Hood” adaptation had been “budding in [Shulman’s] brain for a while,” this year seemed like the perfect time to bring the show to the stage.
“It’s really a very good parallel with what’s happening right now,” Shulman says. “With all of the financial turmoil that’s going on.”
“Audiences will be able to identify with the people within the piece,” Herber adds. “People trying to find work and trying to find jobs.”
Shulman, whose first play, “Don Q,” a modern twist on “Don Quixote,” premiered as a Maryland Ensemble Theatre production in 2010, has taken a similar approach in her version of the classic “Robin Hood” tale. The show is based on the original, ancient Robin Hood story, and while Shulman says she made some adjustments to the setting and characters, the story’s basic template remains the same.
“To make it our own, we didn’t really have to do that much,” Shulman says. “We took the ‘Robin Hood’ story and put it in an ambiguous time period where we could tell this story anywhere.”
The ambiguous time period will likely seem familiar to anyone who’s read a newspaper in the last few years. In Shulman’s update of the classic tale about a bandit who famously steals from the rich and gives to the poor, there is some pretty obvious social commentary about the current economic climate.
The Normands, or land owners, are the wealthy and represent the One Percent. These include characters like Guy Gisbourne (Giovanni Kavota), the Sheriff of Nottingham (Reiner Prochaska) and even Robin Hood himself (Joe Jalette). The Saxons are the 99 percenters and include Little John (Tim Seltzer) and the people of Nottingham.
While Shulman says the basic plot translates well for today’s audiences, the playwright says she did make some choices to change certain characters in an effort to better represent the gray areas in today’s economic battle.
“I wanted to represent every side,” Shulman says. “I didn’t want anyone to be completely villainized.”
In Shulman’s adaptation, Little John, Robin Hood’s second in command, is not the jovial, good guy he is in the original story. Instead, he represents a particular sector of the 99 percent; stubborn and unwilling to listen to the opposition.
For Shulman and Herber, “Occupy Sherwood” accomplishes the two goals they had in mind for the summer production.
“We wanted to try to find a way to reach out to the community and we wanted there to be a message,” Shulman says. “The message isn’t, ‘the 99 percent is correct or the one percent is correct’ ... everyone is wrong. Until both sides are able to stop arguing ... we’re never going to come to a solution.”