Words by Aliki (Aly) Marie Pantas Semones. Photos as noted in captions.
If anyone can commiserate about the struggles of opening a business just before a global pandemic hits, it’s those of us here at Spotlight News. Turns out, we’re not alone! A new theater company has opened in the Hampton Roads community and will have its first performance this Saturday.
Wisdom Heart Theater was founded by Paul Lasakow. He and Staci Murawski are both artistic partners. The mission statement from their website describes the theater as “a fully collaborative theater focused on contemporary works that explore the range of human relationships. Centered on the actor and performing in small alternative spaces, it seeks a rich and intimate theatrical realism.”
Photos courtesy of Paul Laskow and Staci Murawski.
Lasakow drew inspiration for the theater company’s name from Zen Buddhism and the “Wisdom Heart Sutra,” which is chanted before daily practice in Zendos world wide. “It describes the tenets of Zen: being and nothingness, action and inaction, sound and silence are all the same. I find that applies to and actually creates much of the magic of live theater. At once, there is an actor on the stage but also that actor is another person entirely. Their emotions are real and yet simultaneously illusory. The audience can know that they are in a theater yet also exist in the world of the play,” Lasakow explained.
Their first production will be a staged reading of an abridged version of Hamlet, starring Clay Jenkinson. It will be livestreamed on Wisdom Heart Theater’s Facebook page this Saturday, April 25, 2020 at 8 pm. Lasakow & Murawski will be co-directing.
Lasakow came up with the concept of this theater company because he has “been fascinated with a small venue theater for a number of years.” He finds the relationship with the audience in a small venue compelling as an artist.
“The actors don’t have to use their skills to get the message so far out into the distance. Instead they can concentrate on character, bringing it back in. There are compromises that one must make while projecting out to the balcony that are not necessary if the audience is only a few feet away. It’s exactly like film acting, but obviously it’s a live theater. There’s realism one can attain in that method. You can’t really attain it in any other kind of theatrical setting. That’s the kind of work I, as an actor, am most interested in. It was very little opportunity to do that around here, so I decided to go ahead and create an opportunity for others to do that.”
Staci Murawski was introduced to Paul through a mutual friend. Staci also wanted to create theater like Paul envisioned. They began to audition for their first production, “we were getting a lot of energy, getting very psyched about that, buying rights, looking at venues… when… you know, that happened,” said Lasakow. Despite the let down, Lasakow & Murawski kept the excitement and momentum going and found a way to create online. “Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and all we want to do is create good theater in any way we can,” said Lasakow. They decided on doing a reader’s theater- a style of theater in which the actors present dramatic readings using only vocal expression to help the audience understand the story.
Photo by David Polston Freelance.
Clay Jenkinson, known for The Thomas Jefferson Hour, has a lifelong dream of playing Hamlet. Lasakow knew this because of his long relationship with Jenkinson, including partnering together on projects, so Paul offered Clay an opportunity to play his dream role. Jenkinson has a passion for Shakespeare. As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, he studied Elizabethan Literature. “I’ve never seen a middle aged man in tights have groupies pursue him,” Lasakow said, referring to a show Jenkinson calls Shakespeare: The Magic of the Word .
In this 90 minute performance, Jenkinson includes the iconic graveyard scene from Hamlet. Jenkinson plays Hamlet and Lasakow the gravedigger. Lasakow said “[Jenkinson’s] completely enamored with Shakespeare’s work. Even though he’s, as he would say, closer to Lear’s age than Hamlet’s – this is reader’s theater! We got artistic license and the man is amazing because he understands the text so deeply. Clay’s understanding of Shakespearean text is really second to no ones.”
Jenkinson released a video on his Facebook page on April 18, 2020 announcing that he will be finally living out his “lifelong dream” in playing Hamlet, albeit a “shortened version.” Clay said he realized that Hamlet is “a young man’s game. Hamlet is an adolescent with adolescent angst about the world, but It’s been one of the great dreams of my life and now I get to do it. I have the joy of working with my friend Paul Lasakow.” Jenkinson went on to say in the video that “it’s an extraordinary thing to do in this time of pandemic. We’re all together at home, alone together.”
Photo by David Polston Freelance.
While the timing of things has been difficult, Wisdom Heart Theater is certainly making the most of it. They have a strong cast including some from other states. “These are actors that are highly skilled and highly experienced, but maybe not actors that we would be able to use at all times because they’re highly skilled and experienced, so they’re working,” Murawski said. Lasakow added, “we have a variety of highly experienced actors in the company, many of whom have performed nationally, [and] internationally. We’re all theatrical professionals in one way or the other.” The rest of the cast includes: Laura Agudelo, Christopher Bernhardt, Edwin Castillo, Ryan Clemens, Matt Friedman, Paul Lasakow, Phillip Martin, Chris Mixon, Courtney Richard and David Sinrich. Zoë Murawski, Broadcast Technician, will be handling all technical aspects of the streamed performance, including: mics, camera, and title cards for the characters, because the actors play multiple roles. The actors will also have some costumes. Run time for the show is approximately 1 hour 20 minutes.
“We’ll see you on Facebook. This should be great fun!” Jenkinson said at the conclusion of his video.
Tune in tomorrow, April 25, 2020 at 8 pm to see Clay Jenkinson & the cast of Hamlet on Wisdom Heart Theater’s Facebook page.