Renee Newlove has been in and around the Woodward Shakespeare Festival (WSF) since the beginning. She was Hero in their inaugural production of Much Ado About Nothing. While there may have been a few seasons here and there where Newlove wasn’t onstage (producing the Rogue Festival for several years will do that), she was always in the wings, cheering on the troops and deepening her love of Shakespeare.
Newlove has appeared in numerous WSF shows, including OTHELLO (Montano), TWELFTH NIGHT (Viola), ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD (Rosencrantz), HAMLET (Rosencrantz), THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE ABRIDGED, REVISED (Renee), TWO GENTLEMAN OF VERONA (Outlaw), RICHARD III (Elizabeth), TAMING OF THE SHREW (Christopher Sly), and MACBETH (Lennox) in various seasons during its fourteen year run. She has recently added time in the director’s chair to her resume by helming last year’s The Tempest at Fresno Soap Co.
As its fourteenth Season was one of transition for WSF, Newlove took a role on the board of directors and took on a number of production management duties to get the season completed. “This season was a major rebuilding season as we changed almost the entire Board/Production Team personnel. It was really tough and messy, but we learned a lot and will grow from our season,” she says.
In fact, Measure for Measure, the show she’s currently producing and acting in (in the role of Isabella) represents a bit of that rebuilding. Adding an indoor show at the California Arts Academy is new endeavor for the company who performs primarily at the outdoor stage in Woodward Park. Aaron Spjute directs and has worked directly with Newlove on the script and concept of the show. Newlove says, “I have wanted to perform in this show for 20 years and I felt that I was finally at the place in my experience and life to take on this role. . . It has been a labor of love.”
Here is Renee’s Drive-Thru Interview:
In one word, describe your present condition.
In one sentence, what’s going on in your world?
I am juggling teaching, integrating Art into my school district, bartending, a college certificate program, producing a show, acting, and gearing up for season 15 of WSF.
With no restrictions on content or form, describe the present condition of your artistic outlook.
Art is all-encompassing. When I am about to take on a new project I find how the story is being told, how it is relevant to today’s society, and what the overarching theme is. Why does this art need to be in our society today? Why is this story important to tell? When I find those answers I am more rooted in the project and the story. I am a method actor to a point, I deeply feel all of my characters. As I venture into directing shows I become deeply rooted in the stories that are told and the connections actors have to their characters. Art imitates life, so there needs to be a relevant connection that is apparent to both the most veteran audience member and the newest audience member. True art makes people feel something strongly. I hope that all do with art makes people feel something deeply, I’ve reached my highest potential when I’ve accomplished that.
Why Measure for Measure?
Measure for Measure is a story that HAS to be told right now. Men in power abuse that power and the women who speak out about their abuses in today’s society. This is not anything that is new, Shakespeare wrote about it 400 years ago. Our society is circling around the conversation about consent and we have to do a better job at listening to the survivor’s voices and helping those who are victimized survive. Many cast members have their own #metoo stories which strengthen the characters playing on stage.
What do you find exciting about working with this production?
We have changed the gender of some of the most important roles, the Duke most notably. As a cast, we have really tackled the essence of the #metoo movement and related our production to spotlighting how important this issue is. We are also very careful to balance out the dramatic elements of the show with the comedy. The pendulum swings widely and it has been really fun to explore the dark and lighter sides to the show. We have cut the script in a way to eliminate some of the “problem play” elements, it’s a beautiful cut.
Who should come to see this show and why?
Everyone should see this show, or know this story. This show will definitely be PG-13 if not approaching R because of the jokes, which are sexual, and the sexual harassment Isabella goes through. That scene is very uncomfortable for people to watch, especially if they have experienced their own form of harassment. But it is an important conversation to start. We need to shed light on the abuses in the workplace and in our society, we have to really teach people what consent is and how to behave appropriately. This is not a show just for women or men, this is not man bashing, this is an important slice of life that is real and needs to be seen.
What makes a great audience for you?
I love audiences that are in for the ride. Some of the greatest audiences I have been in or performed for have been willing to laugh and cry, they have been willing to listen and engage in the story, they have come to experience the art and appreciate it for what it can be.
As a theater artist, what are you better at now than five years ago?
I have come to accept that everyone’s passion may not match mine. I have learned that “the Art is the Thing” and you have to be honest with the Art. It will take all of your honesty. I also have accepted that I am not as young as I use to be and I can embrace the matron roles now. I have also learned that I really have fun playing men on stage because it’s sometimes more freeing than playing a female.
What’s your best sanity-saving theatre shortcut lifehack?
Memorizing lines in the car and finding the soundtrack to the show (it usually is completely different than the music in the show).
What are your top three theatre reads?
Waiting for Godot, Book of Will, Hamlet
What would you like to see more of on Fresno stages?
I love the classical theatre and I would love to see more Greek theatre I think there are amazing ancient stories that are relevant to today, but are not told often enough. Balance out the new shows with the old.
What have you found to be the most common misconception regarding Shakespeare?
He’s not understandable. I think the greatest disservice to Shakespeare’s works is that it is taught by people who don’t like it. The best teachers in anything are teachers who are passionate about their content. I took a Shakespeare class from a professor who hated Shakespeare, I knew more than he did about the shows and the language. My Freshman English Teacher, Ms. Karsevar, and my Drama Teacher, Susan Kehler, ignited my love for the Bard and I have pursued my love affair with him for over 20 years.
Selma Arts Center’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where I get to play Puck (a role I have wanted to play almost as long as I have wanted to play Isabella) and hopefully the Folger Shakespeare Teaching Fellowship the summer of 2019.
Measure for Measure runs September 28 – October 7. Reserved seats are $10, General Admission is by donation (pay what you will) to benefit WSF Season 15.
The Drive-Thru interview is my easy and satisfying Q&A for your busy theatrical life. I choose a handful of preformed questions and I get variety of answers in return. Perhaps not the most nuanced or clever interview technique in the world, but in the drive-thru getting in and out is key!