“We must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.”
~Brutus, Julius Caesar
Navigating the tide of the Pandemic has shaken the theatre world in South Florida, but spirit and strength – and Zoom – continue leading many to follow their dreams and succeed.
Peter Galman, Founder of Shakespeare Troupe, Inc., has kept his actors and himself as busy as possible since March 2020. Zoom and outdoor performances have kept spirits and happiness alive amid all the pandemic sadness and isolation.
The troupe Zooming
We asked Peter to share his path and the efforts that made that happen.
“Like so many companies, we have gone on Zoom and other live streaming platforms to continue working and offering our efforts for viewers to enjoy. We’ve gone live, where the old days of live TV are back with us, where mistakes happen, and patience is needed, and now we’re recording these readings for future viewing once the videos are edited. It makes for more work, but one looks to make the videos as polished as possible. I’ve adapted, with a lot of help, and I need more.”
“When the government announced the Payment Protection Plan of the CARES Act, offering forgivable loans to businesses, including nonprofits, I immediately applied and used the grant, which is what the loan is, to pay the actors I cast and the designers and technicians that supported and managed the live reading. I’ve produced five videos of Shakespeare using Theatre Authority, the benefit functionary of the Actors Fund, which, for a small donation, Actors Equity has allowed its actors to work under in an agreement with SAG-AFTRA through the end of 2021.”
Tell us more about the support for the Troupe with grants, loans, and donations.
“The Small Business Administration also offered the EIDL relief grant, which I’ve used for more long-term strategies, like developing an e-commerce website and subscribing to Network For Good to help with fundraising and donor management. Those applications require constant attention. I’ve come to appreciate those artists who can continue operating creatively while these important marketing tools are utilized. Our future depends on it. The actors have been amazing in their generosity of talent, key donors have been very supportive, and sponsors of other venues have done what they can. Newcomers to the Troupe who want to help are always welcome, in varieties of positions.”
Shakespeare Troupe at Hobe Sound Art Village November 21, 2020
How does collaboration benefit the Troupe?
“The whole process of surviving with new norms has been a collaborative effort. Actors have become producers through the self-taping process, and other producers have provided information and talent to help the marketing occur. Last March 2020, when everything shut down, I was about to co-produce a festival of classics with other like-minded artistic directors from Yiddishkayt Initiative, Thinking Cap Theatre, New City Players, and Grace Arts Center. The performance was postponed, of course, but we’ve stayed together and are adding other companies and will eventually hold a festival of scenes from classical plays in a kind of celebration and self-promotion of our work. This is aligned with my mission to inspire new audiences.”
“Collaboration helps us learn from one another, too. Clare Vickery of Grace Arts Center is a grant-seeking missile, providing funding for our association of classical theatre companies to create several promotional videos produced outdoors at the Garden of Humanity in Boca Raton, a marketplace in Hobe Sound. I’m planning to use the collaborative process as much as possible. The next event will be an outdoor Twelfth Night together with classic scenes from other companies.”
We know bringing Shakespeare to students has always been a fundamental goal of yours. The Troupe toured many schools in South and Central Florida before the Pandemic shut them down – how have you been keeping the teachers in the loop?
“The videos, when ready, will be presented to schools that hosted the Troupe during their tours. This is one of several legacies of technology that has made performing artists into filmmakers. Videos and webinars are a more economical way for educators to present Shakespeare. My videos are furnished with study guides, and for an additional cost, I can bring several teaching artists to the schools to conduct workshops in Shakespeare performance. True, there’s nothing like a live performance, and I will continue to offer that to the schools that can afford it. Are the days of the curriculum plays numbered? Reports of Shakespeare education missing in schools are greatly exaggerated. Shakespeare is alive and well, being remixed and reimagined by a diverse population of actors, directors, and teachers across the country. Online readings, webinars, and workshops have become a vital part of the actor/manager’s toolkit, lending support, and information that will transform the people who come in contact with a Shakespeare performance.”
Found this wonderful photo by George Wentzler during one of Troupe’s school tours. He was a great supporter — we loved him.
With the Miami-Dade County Department for Cultural Affairs support, the Troupe also brought readings of Shakespeare to several behavioral facilities. Those readings were critical to both the residents and the actors. Will they take place again?
“The readings had specific themes based on the facility director’s requests. They were well attended and received, sometimes with requests from the audience for their favorite speeches. If we were given permission, we offered a place on stage for some residents, and the room glowed with joy from all as they watched.”
“We’ll have to wait for the invitation to come back to them once they have opened their doors again to performers. Meanwhile, we hope to entertain them with our videos, which come with study guides. The videos can also be screen shared via Zoom, and we will have some audience involvement with me as the presenter.”
Retirement communities also brought in Shakespeare Troupe for readings. Do you think you’ll be able to resume these performances next season?
“The retirement communities are very much like the behavioral facilities in that we offer live entertainment, indoors. They are also a source of income for use through performance fees and donations in some cases. We’re going to have to wait until it’s deemed safe for the audience and performers alike. The safety protocols are an additional expense that will be taken into account. The rate will go up, but if that’s acceptable to the community, then we’ll be ready.”
“We have a full repertory of scene nights and full productions of plays in abridged form. It will be amazing to do all this work because we’ve been preparing by rehearsing comedies and tragedies using seven actors and getting the play done in 90 minutes. It will be perfect for communities to call us in for a live production, bare minimum setting, and props, and we will deliver the words like never before.”
“We’ve already done an outdoor performance of Twelfth Night at Adolph & Rose Levis JCC in Boca, at a higher rate for our community appearance. Now, we have As You Like It in development, Much Ado About Nothing is next, and, of course, we toured with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. On the darker side, we’ll offer Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, and King Lear. All of these are now in our repertory. The exciting thing is — we may turn them into films. It’s ambitious, but it’s time to go big.”
As Founder of the Troupe, an actor, and director, how have you personally grown during this time? What have you learned that benefits the Troupe and you as a person?
“It’s been a learning process, and growth happens when you break through the resistance to change. If anything, the Pandemic has taught us all never to take for granted the experience we can communicate to a live audience. Shakespeare and his company survived through several shutdowns caused by the plague. That spirit of revival, renewal, and transformation continues to this day. We all must do what we need to do and let others judge the results. That’s been, and will always be, my mantra.”
Many actors in South Florida, excited to be a part of Peter’s passion, joined in 2016 when the Troupe was founded and have continued to work with Peter whenever they can. Troupers now total 60.
Troupers who have worked on Zoom and the outdoor performances since March 2020 were asked to share how the Pandemic has affected their drive and creativity and how work provided by Peter helped them. Here is a summary of their thoughts about the last 12 months in their own words:
“The Pandemic certainly made me even more eager to develop my craft so that when opportunities did arise, I was ready for the challenge. The work provided by Peter Galman certainly allowed me to remember why I became a creative in the first place: to escape.”
“The pandemic took a lot of wind out of my sails, both emotionally and artistically, but thanks to Peter Galman and the South Florida Shakespeare Troupe, I got a chance to knock the cobwebs out — particularly in playing the role of Mark Antony in “Julius Caesar” — and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity he gave me to get those creative juices flowing again.”
“During the Pandemic, I have found it difficult to be motivated to pursue my theatre career, but because Peter would call to include me in Shakespeare Troupe of South Florida Zoom performances as an actor, as an assistant director of a live performance, and finally, as a director of the website video, I began to see the light at the end of this long COVID-19 tunnel. I am most grateful to Peter for the opportunities to be creative.”
“Working with the Shakespeare Troupe through the last 13 months of this extraordinarily difficult, challenging, and unique time of Pandemic has proven that The Bard still lives strongly in our art, lives, and culture, even when relegated to the confined environment of THE ZOOM APP! It further proves and cements the Bard’s continuing relevance, longevity, viability and survivability on any stage, platform or medium and the never-ending passion actors and audiences alike have for his astonishing poetry and prose.”
“The Pandemic, if anything, made me strive more for what I want in the world of theatre. Pre-Covid, I was just a performer. During the early days of the Pandemic, I decided to go after what I wanted to do in my artistic career, composing music for the theatre. Peter was kind enough to give me that opportunity. When he decided to do Twelfth Night, he allowed me to perform in the show and fully score it. He may not know it, but allowing me to score a show fully will probably be a career highlight for me. It was also my first time working with him, so to walk into production with someone so trusting is incredible and rare.”
~Michael (Mo) Font
“It’s been a challenge keeping myself artistically motivated, and by January I felt like Sisyphus at the bottom of the hill, but Peter (and the Shakes Troupe of SoFla) provided a safe opportunity to perform in a live production of Twelfth Night which completely gave me the artistic boost I was desperately needing.”
“The Pandemic was not the first time in my life that the Shakespeare Troupe has helped me through a traumatic event. During the trauma, I needed artistic expression and fulfillment to carry me through the darkness, and Shakespeare (and Peter) were there to rescue me! There is a playfulness to Shakespeare’s text that reintroduces us to our inner child. A vital part of us all that too often is neglected. All you have to do is think about how the entire world managed to make it through the lockdowns. By baking. By writing. By gardening. Painting. All playful activities that our inner children beg us to pursue in our daily lives. So, thank you, Shakespeare and Peter!”
“The Pandemic was decimating for the entertainment industry as a whole. Film and Theatre projects stopped in their tracks. The show I was working on came to an immediate halt, and I was left shell-shocked. Fortunately, I found work, and I’ve been working consistently since the Pandemic began. Peter and the Shakes Troupe were one of the groups to offer me work to get me through this trying year.”
“Adapting to the new normal has allowed me to transform and evolve as an artist. One must constantly be thinking outside of the box to bring joy and storytelling to life – the Pandemic has been no exception to this idea for me. My work with Peter has allowed me to step into a creative, flowing space and filled with ease. Working with him opened my eyes to how powerful the art of expression can be (even though our little zoom boxes). I have been using my platform to send inspiration and gratitude to anyone willing to receive them. I am truly thankful for all the work Peter has provided for me.”
“Life is tough when you lose your job – when you can’t hold your aged mom’s hand – or when you are facing a stack of bills. But what about the loss of the arts in your life? As an actor, I feel it more than most. But every one of you suffers the loss too. Even if you can’t put that loss in words. The Shakespeare Troupe gave us all the chance to be part of the creative community again by rehearsing and performing Shakespeare to the public via Zoom. It was like a drink of water in the desert! To be part of the creative process – as an artist or audience – is to feed the starving soul and – through the Bard’s words – to understand our place in centuries of history. Remember that ‘This too shall pass and that the arts will be vital to our endurance in the desert.”
“The Pandemic has challenged my creativity and has launched me into some unique growth opportunities – including getting to Assistant Direct a virtual reading of star-studded Twelfth Night, as well as getting to stage-manage an outdoor, live production of the same. Both, completely new ventures, and both thanks to Peter Galman and the Shakes Troupe.”
“During the Pandemic, I pretty much put all artistic and creative endeavors on hold because we didn’t know when we’d be back. For a few months, it was a nice break. But atrophy set in and then depression. Peter has allowed me to revisit Shakespeare in the professional realm as I haven’t tackled it since college. I’m much more confident with his direction than I was all those years ago, and I’m enjoying it more. Not to mention the incredible casts he has assembled who challenge me to be at my best. Now, I’m submitting and getting work as an actor again, thanks to him. What an unexpected gift and blessing it has been to get those “juices” flowing again. I am very grateful.”
“The Pandemic was like a bucket of ice poured over me; it froze everything. Being able to be a part of readings for The South Florida Shakespeare Troupe and interacting with Peter and fellow actors was a welcome respite.”
“My drive and creativity are fairly constant during the Pandemic. I have to say Peter reaching out and inviting me to perform Shakespeare, online and safely in person, enabled me to reconnect with fellow artists in a very welcoming and professional environment, something that I’d been missing.”
Peter was moved and inspired by the comments from his fellow Troupers:
“Actors make choices based on their intelligence, instinct, passion, and a sense of purpose. It’s gratifying, to say the least, when an actor says yes to acting Shakespeare with me, and it’s thrilling beyond all expectations to experience those actors then making their choices in the process of becoming a character. I must give them a platform, open a door, or shed some light on the matter at hand; then, the circle is complete. We serve one another. It’s an act of love, what we do as performing artists.”
When Peter Galman formed Shakespeare Troupe in 2016, his mission statement was
“To train a group of actors that are committed to doing Shakespeare; to get on their feet and be confident with complex text and take the work to various venues and schools in South Florida. That’s where the audience is going to come from. Appreciation for Shakespeare needs to be cultivated and can happen as early as 4th grade. When a person hears Shakespeare for the first time, they hear a new language, but the poetry makes it a universal language that the person understands intuitively. Delivery is key. There are rules of verse to be followed for clarity and execution of the writer’s intent. That’s why training is so important.”