Shaking it Up at Door Shakespeare

On a blustery March morning, I sat down for coffee with Amy J. Ludwigsen, the new executive director of Door Shakespeare, to hear about the exciting changes in store for this summer....ah, summer!  Amy is passionate about continuing the legacy of Shakespeare in Door County.  She's equally enthusiastic about making the most of Door Shakespeare's legacy at Björklunden, where the company has performed "in the garden" for the past seventeen years.  But she's also young, ambitious, and, armed with a freshly minted Master’s Degree from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, she wants to being a new freshness and accessibility to Door Shakespeare and create theatre for the people. "Shakespeare, in his day, was so controversial and cutting edge.  And he was all about storytelling," says Ludwigsen.  "We're excited to be getting back to the storytelling aspect of the Shakespeare canon."  To do this Ludwigsen and her team have selected two highly contrasting works by Shakespeare that offer fine acting opportunities to the newly assembled company, culled from some of the region's and the country's finest young Shakespeare players.

"We can provide an actor the experience to play a lover in one play, and a villain in another.  It's a great opportunity for audiences, too.  We want our audiences to say 'Let's definitely see both shows this summer!'" Central to Ludwigsen's vision for Door Shakespeare is a new perspective on audience participation.  "In Shakespeare's day, the theatre experience was more conversational.  We're getting back to that by setting up the audience space in a way that's never been done before."  She also cites her exposure to the Scottish theatre scene as inspirational.   "In Scotland, theatre is comfortable--it's created around the audience in places that have bars, bookstores, and coffee shops."  To that end, Ludwigsen and her team are dreaming up a events including pre and post show discussions, family nights where kids will create art projects related to the show, and a kickoff to Macbeth that will rock the night away. 

"On May 18 we are having a Ceilidh, a celebration with a traditional Scottish band, a dance caller, food, and drinks.  It's our way of inviting people into the culture of Macbeth." While in Scotland, Ludwigsen attending Ceilidhs nearly every Friday night.  "Everyone just danced the whole night long.  You could tell who was Scottish- they never stopped!" Ludwigsen is also looking forward to using Bjorklunden's garden space, the theatre's home since 1995- in a new way.  "We're not reinventing the wheel," she explains. 

"It's a beautiful wheel, and the foundation of Door Shakespeare is strong.  But we're looking at this garden and asking ourselves 'Look at this place! What would you do?"  In going beyond theatre in a garden, we are creating theatre that really uses the garden as part of the play." Door Shakespeare's creative team is an impressive bunch of young guns.  Ludwigsen and her team of four artistic associates have been working all winter on setting the company's new direction.  The associates will also anchor the acting and directing of the summer season. 

"Matt Foss comes to us from Montana Shakespeare in the park, he has a real vision for working with the natural space.  Jason Economus was a company member a few years ago, since then he has worked with Backroom Shakespeare in Chicago, who perform Shakespeare in bars for young, hip audiences." 

Ludwigsen's sister Jennifer heads up the company's educational programs, Doorways, and Jeremiah Davis brings a depth of knowledge in the history, performance, and practice of Shakespeare.  Davis is also working on shoring up the off-season, which could include more performances in Door County, or even places beyond the peninsula like Milwaukee or Chicago. AYLIEnsemble Photo courtesy of Door Shakespeare.   The educational component of Door Shakespeare is critical to Ludwigsen's vision of the company.  "Shakespeare is the foundation of so much in our culture, it provides common stories and language.  We want to be able to teach that foundation to children of all ages," she says.   The summer Doorways workshops serve kids ages 7-18, and the company is also reaching out to schools, having taught workshops at Sevastopol and Gibraltar in recent months. Through all of her discussion of artistry and vision, Ludwigsen's professionalism shines through. 

"It's so important to me to go above and beyond in meeting our audiences expectations.  We want to be seen as consistent, dependable, and resourceful." That means that every donation is acknowledged, every ticket is ready to go, and every event is impeccably planned- and of course, that the performances are thrilling.  From the looks of it, all of this is keeping Amy Ludwigsen very busy.  I can't wait to visit the garden this summer and see the results!