Local English Teacher Becomes The Bard
Words By Grace Altman. Images Courtesy of Little Theatre of Virginia Beach.
“The Sweet Swan of Avon;” “The National Poet of England;” “The Bard.” Though he had many names, we all know him: William Shakespeare. Like me, you probably learned about his life and read some of his plays in high school. In Little Theatre of Virginia Beach’s production of Something Rotten, though, Shakespeare is a little different than how we knew him in high school. And he’s played by Zack Kattwinkel, a local high school English teacher.
With six years of teaching English under his belt, Kattwinkel has read and taught many of The Bard’s works; Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It, to name a few. “There’s kind of a tradition at First Colonial High School,” says Kattwinkel, “of being a sophomore and putting on a bedsheet, tying it like a toga, and doing Julius Caesar in the courtyard. I have fond memories of doing that myself, and when I [taught] 10th grade classes, they did that as well.” In LTVB’s show, however, Kattwinkel is trading in his toga for a codpiece, and adopting a whole new persona to take on the role of Shakespeare.
What makes Something Rotten’s Shakespeare different? A lot. “I want to say this Shakespeare sings, but the original one probably also sang,” says Kattwinkel. “I don’t know that the original Shakespeare would have done quite as much hip thrusting or would have made the ladies swoon quite so quickly as this one does, and I hope for his sake that he was not walking around with the codpiece that I hear is part of the costume.”
This production’s iteration of Shakespeare is certainly not the same Shakespeare we’re familiar with. Director Jeff Seneca describes this Shakespeare as “a mess of a person who will do anything to come out on top…but he is fun.” The show, though set in Elizabethan England, is full of “cleverly nuanced jokes that really take [it] to another level.” According to Olivera Darden, a former First Colonial student of Kattwinkel’s and a member of the cast, the audience should expect an interpretation of Shakespeare with “extravagance, hair flowing in the wind, and some killer vocals, of course.” To any of his students coming to see the show, Kattwinkel says, “You’re going to want to take out your cell phones and record; DO NOT DO THAT.”
It’s no surprise that Kattwinkel considers Shakespeare one of his favorite historical figures. “Part of the problem is that I’m going to be choking down my own laughter because there are several times where Shakespeare will go in and make a reference,” says Kattwinkel. “There are all those little Easter eggs that have additional significance throughout.”
Besides the clever lines and suave personality, Shakespeare’s plays historically spoke for themselves. Kattwinkel believes they have a timeless, universal appeal. “I think within [around] 36 plays there are all kinds of situations that mirror the one that we find ourselves in, whether it's feeling like we need to disguise ourselves to be safe; or trying to deal with the loss that we weren't expecting; or suddenly seeing somebody who just completely takes your breath away and you realize that's the one you've been waiting for…all of those situations happen in [Shakespeare’s] plays, and we can take the words that he expressed and apply them to us,” says Kattwinkel.
Keeping all this in mind, Kattwinkel is “both excited and scared” to tackle the role of Shakespeare, as audiences have never seen him quite like this. “I think [people] probably won't know what hit them. It's just really exciting. I've been coming to shows at the Little Theater of Virginia Beach since I was in middle school. My grandma has been a season subscriber for years and years and years, and so it's just very exciting to be able to play such a special role at such a special theater for me.”
Something Rotten runs through August 14 at Little Theatre of Virginia Beach. Showtimes are 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and 2:30 p.m. on the last two Saturdays and all Sundays. Tickets are available at ltvb.com. They are $20 for adults and $18 for seniors age 60 and up, active military, and full-time students. Season subscriptions for LTVB’s 75th diamond anniversary season also go on sale to the general public on July 15. Subscribing offers the most savings, and you will receive a free ticket to The Z for their 2022-2023 season if you purchase by the end of September.