Love’s Labour’s Found
 

Sandwich-based Theater Group Brings Shakespeare to the Region 

By Mark Foynes 

For nearly two decades, Advice to the Players has mounted big productions in a small but special place nestled in the foothills of the White Mountains. Since 1999, the Sandwich-based theatre group has specialized in bringing the works of William Shakespeare to the people of the region. 

Sandwich is a town of about 1,300 year-round residents, so it’s not a place you’d expect to find a thriving non-profit theater. Especially one as innovative and education-focused as Advice to the Players (ATTP). 

A scene from a recent performance, Love's Labour's Lost, an ATTP production; Diana Evans Photo

A scene from a recent performance, Love's Labour's Lost, an ATTP production; Diana Evans Photo

Jessie Chapman is the organization’s executive director. She grew up in the area and has a long connection with ATTP, having attended several of its acting workshops prior to earning degrees from Plymouth and Brooklyn College. Since 2007 Chapman has been working with ATTP in various capacities - as an actor, a teacher, and an administrator. 

The organization is quite multifaceted. The core of its mission is to mount the kind of high-quality productions for which you’d ordinarily need to travel to Concord or Manchester - or perhaps even Boston.  

This past season featured three major productions, which included King Lear and Love’s Labour’s Lost. Regarding the latter play, which completed its run last month, the ATTP website summarized: “The King of Navarre and his three companions swore off the company of women for three years to study and fast - but then the Princess of France and her three brilliant ladies arrive on a diplomatic mission and all is for naught. A hilarious comedy about love, principle, and the battle between the sexes.” 

Chapman said that each season ATTP also features a contemporary-era play that draws inspiration from one of the Bard’s works. The 2018 season featured a new play called The Taming. In it, the central character, the beautiful Katherine, “has political aspirations to match her beauty pageant ambitions. All she needs to revolutionize the American government is the help of one ultra-conservative senator's aide on the cusp of a career breakthrough, and one bleeding-heart liberal blogger who will do anything for her cause.” 

Chapman said visionary founder Caroline Nesbit launched ATTP nearly 20 years ago. Having taught theatre at the progressive Community School in Tamworth for many years, she came to recognize that there was an unmet demand for quality drama in the area, and for Shakespeare in particular. 

Since Nesbit’s establishment of the non-profit theatre group, its mission has expanded to encompass other types of programming such as improv and music. 

“I continue to draw inspiration from her example,” Chapman said. 

For her part, Nesbit remains very much involved as ATTP’s artistic director, an instructor, and an actor.  

In addition, ATTP helps inspire young people to appreciate live performance through a series of workshops that are integral to their approach to theatre. 

For example, its summertime Shakespeare Drama Camp, which offers “Performance-Based Programs for All Ages” takes place in late July. For children aged five to seven, the program introduces participants to the art of theatre through game playing; for kids from eight to 12, they can build on some basic elements by learning and performing a Shakespeare play; and for youth ages 12 to 15, they learn voice, movement, and stage technique. There’s also a Young Players’ Practicum in August for young thespians 13 and up, allowing them to further hone their skills and perform in an ATTP production alongside professional actors. 

“There’s a real mentorship aspect to it,” Chapman said.  

She noted ATTP’s youth programs offer “a place where teens can find their voice.” She added that the summer workshops and the opportunity to perform with professionals combine to serve as “something of a proving ground.” 

Chapman added that many of the youth form strong bonds with ATTP, go off to college, and return to Sandwich after getting some professional on-stage experience, in effect creating a talent development pipeline. 

While it might seem like it would be an uphill slog to attract top professional talent from the region and beyond, Chapman said that it’s really not difficult at all. She cited a variety of reasons. Firstly, the timing of ATTP’s program helps fill gaps in actors’ work schedules. Additionally, the organization is networked with professional groups like the Shakespeare Theatre Association Actors Equity Association; these types of organizations often will refer actors to small organizations like Advice to the Players. And since ATTP has been inspiring young talent for 19 years, the theatre group has established a strong alumni network, with many former students having gone on to establish stage careers of their own. 

“With the actors who started here, there’s a particular sense of giving back,” Chapman said. 

In addition to educational programs that it offers onsite, ATTP has traveling outreach programs to schools year round. The website describes the in-school workshops as being designed to “engage students with Shakespeare’s stories and language in a variety of ways accessible to multiple learning styles. Our on-your-feet imaginative approach succeeds with students who have tons or no prior experience with Shakespeare—and everywhere in between.” Some schools take advantage of these traveling programs as a way to orient students prior to a field trip at attend an ATTP performance.  

Chapman added that an equally important part of ATTP’s mission is its commitment to community engagement. “Pretty much every play has a mix of professionals, actors from right here in the area, and students from our workshops,” Chapman noted. She added that there’s a remarkable amount of acting talent right in the immediate area. 

While there are mainstays of the organization’s philosophy and approach, ATTP has evolved over time. 

Its opening of the Arts Center at 12 Main in Center Sandwich a few years back has allowed the organization to expand its programming, which now includes live music and improv nights. The venue also features gallery space to exhibit the works of local visual artists. 

The Open Improv Meetup at the Arts Center at 12 Main runs from January through June and takes place on the fourth Tuesday of the month from 6 to 8 pm. These impromptu gatherings are open to teens and adults; a $5 donation is recommended to help defray facility expenses. 

These are open sessions. According to the ATTP website, “[N]o experience or reservations needed, just show up... and do some improv!” 

In the same way, the site continues, “You don’t need to have done any improv before or even stepped on a stage! This is a just-for-fun program, for actors, comedians, storytellers, and none-of-the-aboves, and we’re all learning together.” 

The Concert Series at the Arts Center at 12 Main features musical performers playing in a wide variety of genres. The 2018 season, which ran from the end of June through August, featured classical piano, Celtic, jazz, lounge music, and Klezmer. 

Like the improv nights, admission is by donation. In addition to its weekly summer concerts, ATTP hosts intermittent off-season performances in the fall, winter, and spring. 

As for the organization’s name, Advice to the Players derives from a famous speech in Hamlet where the Danish prince offers counsel to a group of traveling actors by exhorting: 

“You must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who (for the most part) are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise. I would have such a fellow whipp’d for o’erdoing.” 


Shakespeare’s Hamlet continued: 

 “Be not too tame neither; but let your own discretion be your 

tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with 

this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of 

nature” 

 “This emphasis on nature seems to be in perfect harmony with our philosophy,” Chapman observed, noting the scenic beauty of the local landscape. 

2019 will mark ATTP’s 20th anniversary season. Tickets go on sale one month prior to opening night. Soon, ATTP will be updating its website, advicetotheplayers.org, although Chapman confirmed that Taming of the Shrew and Measure for Measure will be part of the schedule. For more information, call 603-284-7115.  

If you or a child or grandchild want to perform: A hallmark of ATTP is its high level of community involvement. Chapman said the organization holds open auditions each spring in Sandwich. Dates have not yet been set, but will be announced with plenty of lead-time. 

To support the ATTP mission: The theatre group is a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization that describes itself as a “unique company of theater professionals, enthusiastic community members and energetic teens that has been performing Shakespeare and offering workshops in New Hampshire's Lakes and Mountains Region since 1999.” To fulfill its mission of cultural engagement, ATTP derives revenue from individual donors, corporate and foundational sponsorships and grants. Online donations can be made at advicetotheplayers.org/donate

As an aside for the orthographically astute:
The careful reader may have noted the alternating spellings and usages of theater and theatre. Chapman explained that both are correct - depending on the context. She noted that the word theater refers to the actual building; the actors therein practice the art of theatre. One therefore goes to the theater to enjoy and experience theatre).