CSF supporter spotlight | Building a bridge between actors and audience
One of the best things about the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF) is perhaps its greatest challenge—the outdoors.
Much of the annual festival takes place in the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre. However, the venue’s al fresco perch can also make for challenging acoustics. As one seasoned actor joked, “In the Rippon, no one can hear you scream.”
For this reason, the actors must display a high level of vocal clarity and precision so the audience can follow along with Shakespeare’s famous storylines.
“The first criticism you’ll hear from your average theatregoer is, ‘Shakespeare is so hard to understand!’” said Tim Orr, producing artistic director of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. “It’s critical that we are helping the audience in every way we can.”
In 2018, Orr began seeking funds to hire a voice and text coach—a position that helps actors create more clarity and precision of sound and language. He believed this position would help create a better bridge between the actors and the audience.
Immediately, Patty and Jerry Hauptman’s ears perked up. The Hauptmans are avid Colorado Shakespeare Festival fans and have been attending for years. Patty also serves on the CSF advisory board.
“The festival brings back great memories of friendship and discussions and just moments to be together, dodging the rain and being in beautiful warm nights,” said Patty.
“I have a natural affinity for that kind of cultural event. Theatre is such a wonderful thing. It just enriches life,” said Jerry, who has been attending CSF for over 50 years.
The couple agreed to fund the position, making generous donations to the festival that have allowed CSF to hire voice and text coach Jeffrey Parker for the 2019 season through the present.
“When I found [Jeffrey], Patty and Jerry stepped forward and said ‘We trust you. Make it happen,’” said Tim. “They connected to this cause. Their passion and priorities really connected to this particular campaign that we were trying to pull together.”
Besides contributing to the festival as a whole, the position also has a personal connection for the Hauptmans.
“I’m hearing impaired,” said Jerry. “Particularly in that outdoor venue, it’s always been a bit of a challenge to hear what’s being said on the stage. I enjoy the Shakespeare theatre so much, I don’t always have to understand or hear what they’re saying. But anything that would enhance my ability to hear what’s going on onstage, I’m all for.”
Parker says there is no “typical day” for a voice and text coach. It all depends on the needs of the specific text and the specific actor. From physical exercises (like leaping off a chair while reciting the line) to going over the text’s nuanced meaning, a pursuit of clarity underlies all his efforts with actors.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s fair to say I’m an advocate for the audience’s ears,” said Parker. “I collaborate with the directors and the actors to help the actors own their text through experimentation, table work, discussion and more.”
Mare Trevathan, who played Lady Capulet in CSF’s 2019 production of “Romeo and Juliet,” remembers poring over a confusing sentence for hours with Parker until discovering its underlying meaning.
“[Jeffrey] is really knowledgeable about the adaptations that need to happen for performances in the outdoor space,” she said. “He does his homework, and he really helps people to be able to make those general and nuanced shifts.”
The audience of the 2019 season immediately noticed the effects of Parker’s work during his first season as voice and text coach. Without prompting, festival-goers made comments about the “improved sound system,” assuming technology was at play behind the augmented clarity.
“There was an extraordinary difference in clarity and understanding for our audience. It became even more of a priority for us to continue this position,” said Orr. “Jerry and Patty have been with us funding it for three years. It just makes a huge difference.”
“We’re just grateful to be able to contribute the way we’ve been able to,” said Jerry. “We’re supporters of the arts, we go to the theatre all the time, and there’s something special about the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.”