Members of Flock Theatre reflect on 25 years of Shakespeare in the Arboretum

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Flock Theatre is marking quite a milestone this year: 25 years of performing Shakespeare plays in the Connecticut College Arboretum in New London.

Considering that this is such a significant anniversary, The Day asked Flock actors to detail their favorite memories.

And while they are actors, many of these folks have taken on other jobs in various Flock productions over the years as well. Some of them began working with Flock as adults; others started with the group in their younger years and found this to be a formative experience.

Derron Wood, Flock’s executive artistic director, isn’t one of the people reminiscing here; he says, “As we always say in Flock: ‘It takes 50 people to do the work of 50 people,’ and over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of actors who serve not only as actors but interns, light/sound techs, prop makers, costumers, set builders, directors, stage managers, and more for our productions. As we fly together as a true ensemble, this is their chance to share their stories and voices.”

Some of their remembrances were edited for space. 

Patrick Goodnow

My favorite Flock Arboretum experiences?

The first ever Flock in the Arbo (in 1994) — “Comedy of Errors” as Dromio of Syracuse with masks melting to our faces, costumes whipped up out of curtains, roadside work-lights for the second half, leg braces and ‘skeeter bites … it was glorious!

So much so that I came back as Dromio again (or was it three times total?) and also got to play Falstaff, Feste, and Richard III; Greeks and Misers and Nurses as well, not to mention a handful of Bottoms.

I was also given the opportunity to direct and stage the version of “Twelfth Night” (in 2000) that I had always dreamed about with a cast and crew that honored and celebrated that vision.

This last is truly what Flock is all about.

Jane Ross Martineau

I am extremely grateful for the time I have spent in the arboretum with Flock Theatre. I have had numerous magical moments discovering Shakespeare while working with the executive artistic director, Derron Wood. 

“Macbeth” (in 1997) was my first foray. I played Hecate. We had a piper stationed across the pond, dressed in authentic Scottish attire, playing during the preshow. Fog rolled in and blanketed the pond and stage. I remember hearing the music of the haunting pipes waft through the arbo as the mystical vision of the piper was revealed. That picture and memory has stayed with me this 20-plus years. Having the beautiful landscape and natural stage of the arboretum as a theatrical space was and is truly a gift. As cast members, we would spend prep time standing in a circle, in the field, listening and tuning in to the each other and the sounds surrounding us. That, too, was and is a gift. It was important for us to respect the space.

Another favorite was being the lead puppeteer and voice for Ariel in “The Tempest” (in 2004). Breathing life into this ethereal creature while moving through the scenic arboretum transported us all to Prospero’s island.

The arboretum provides us, adults and children alike, an extraordinary environment to play dress up and make believe. It was a blast! Prepping in the lodge, running down canopied paths when “Places!” was called, making entrances through bush-brakes or up the stone stairs, or down through the middle of the audience was always exhilarating.

Life has kept me from recent theatrical adventures in the arbo with Flock, but I hope to return soon. I have missed the magic and wonder of it all!

Sarah Stryker

Flock has provided a second family and second home for me since I was 12. I remember as a kid spending hours upon hours in wonder, watching the actors bring Shakespearean text to life, as I slowly but surely became familiar with the poetic language.

Flock Theatre works as a family and a team where everyone works together and brings whatever they can to help in creating magic. It sparked a love and passion for theater within me which has lead me to the path I am on today (Stryker just graduated with an MFA in acting from Pace University and is pursuing a career in the field). I’m forever grateful for them.

Julie (Rattey) Butters

So often in tales, the forest is where magic happens. So I find it fitting that the Arboretum should seem to sprinkle pixie dust on any Flock show. The natural beauty of the setting, enhanced by stage effects, makes it that much easier for both actors and audiences to suspend their disbelief. Playing Queen Clytemnestra in the Greek tragedy “Iphegenia at Aulis” (2006) was an exceptional example. Performing in Grecian garb under the night sky, with braziers ablaze onstage, I felt thrillingly connected to all the performers and audiences who have been experiencing this story since the fifth century BC. 

Madeline Sayet

To say that Flock’s 25 years of Shakespeare in the Arboretum has had a significant impact on my life would be an extreme understatement. I started attending the productions at the age of 6 or 7, and performing in them at 14. Before I left home, most of the theater I saw and participated in was through Flock, and thanks to Flock, I had a good handle on much of Shakespeare’s canon.

I remember the first time I auditioned, I was too scared so my stepdad had to audition with me.

I remember the first time I was cast — being sure they had made a mistake and making my parents call them back several times to be sure. And when I arrived, being so nervous because I recognized people from the shows so they seemed famous to me.

Growing up, Flock Theatre was the place where I felt like I belonged. Rehearsal was the highlight of my day, and summers in the Arboretum my favorite part of the year. The Arboretum was where we were all together working toward a common goal. It’s where I got to experience the performances where it’s so hot in the summer, you vomit offstage — the days where a castmate gets sick, and you find out only as the show is starting, that someone else will have to go on.

Flock is also where I learned how to be an adult — where I had my first professional acting jobs (Sayet has gone on to have a career as a director), internships, responsibilities as a board member, my first teaching artist experiences, where I learned how to be a role model for others. Where I learned that the teaching artist work is as important as the shows themselves, particularly when the youth you work with show up at the shows and you see something has changed in them. That they see or understand something differently now.

Gabriella M Geisinger

When I joined Flock (in 2009), I was only 19 and needed a safe space. Flock gave me that — a space to explore, to play, to dream. But Flock challenged me. Challenged me to think critically, to be introspective, to hold myself to a higher caliber. To be there, not just for my castmates, my fellow Flockies, but for myself. Flock is both a safe place and a place that challenges you — to be better, kinder, funnier. To laugh more, to think more, to feel more. In exploring other characters, I built my own — all under the watchful, particular, passionate eye of Derron Wood.

Jordan Mahome

In the mid-’90s (starting as a young undergraduate at Connecticut College), I had the most incredibly unique and wonderful experiences with the Flock Theatre.

Being so close to the home of the great Eugene O’Neill, it was only fitting that we reimagined one of his most intense and political works ever, “The Emperor Jones,” in a bare, underused space in downtown New London. I was so very nervous to take on the role but excited to be off campus working on such a classic.

Then Derron double cast me in Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors,” playing the courtesan (a wily prostitute) and the abbess (the superior of a community of nuns), and the irony was not lost on me. Although there was instant comedy in a man over 6 feet tall playing these two polar opposite women, Derron made sure it was still about the text and truth of moment, keeping with the very physical and movement-centric performance I was used to with him. That physical element was not lost in the Arboretum, even as the courtesan had very bouncy water balloon breasts — a definite highlight of my acting career thus far.

There could not have been a more beautiful, vibrant venue than the Connecticut College Arboretum to put on the fast-paced comedy, and no better leader than Derron. Outside with the elements, animals, insects and patrons was nothing short of magical ... unforgettable.

Jon Wenc

As the current drama teacher at New London’s middle school, I have had the great pleasure and good fortune to work (starting through the drama club in 2016 and then as an actor in 2018) with Derron Wood, Victor Chiburis, Noah Todd and others associated with Flock Theatre. Through this working relationship, which began for me a few years ago, it quickly became clear to me that Flock Theatre is a community theater in its purest form — educating, informing, entertaining, and engaging a diverse group of talented community members. Derron Wood clearly has had a vision, no doubt altered multiple times over the years, and has held on to it. The seeds of what he’s planted continue to blossom, and I am thankful to be associated with such a great group of individuals.

Coming up at the Arbo ...

Flock Theatre returns to the Connecticut College Arboretum in New London this summer with Sophocles' "Oedipux Rex" July 25-Aug. 4, and then a run of Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" Aug. 15-25.

Showtimes are 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is $20 general admission, $15 for students, seniors, active military.

For more information

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