IF YOU GO
What: Shakespeare's comedy about the wooing of a stubborn woman, updated for a Neapolitan setting
When: Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 17-26
Where: Naples Regional Library, 650 Central Avenue
Information: (239) 682-3637 or facebook.com/sipnaples
Something Else: Library parking is limited; additional parking available at Gulfview Middle School or in the First Church of Christ Scientist lot across Central Avenue.
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
650 Central Avenue, Naples, FL
NAPLES — Shakespeare in Paradise founder John McKerrow refuses to dwell on the fact that his two-year-old company lost its one-time home at Barron Collier High School over what he calls "a lot of red tape."
He prefers to look forward, to the future, to Padua, and to his company's spring production of "The Taming of the Shrew."
In a wide-ranging interview, John McKerrow shares the reason Shakespeare in Paradise had to leave Barron Collier, the joy he gets from teaching young people about the beauty of the Bard's prose and offers hints about his version of "Taming of the Shrew" set right here in Naples.
"I'm going to spank my wife on stage," McKerrow said gleefully, referring to the fact that he and his real-life spouse Mary Anne McAvoy McKerrow will play Petruchio and Katharina in Shakespeare's comedy about the wooing of an obstinate woman. "We've been fighting for 20 years to prepare for this role!"
Shakespeare in Paradise's first (and only) year at Barron Collier High School grew out of an organic partnership after McKerrow toured classrooms with his stripped-down, minimalist version of "MacBeth, A Love Story" several years ago.
"We would do the one-hour show and then a talkback," McKerrow said. "The kids loved it. Of course, the question I got most often was 'What's it like to kiss someone other than your wife?'"
Later, McKerrow shared stories of students writing him to say that they "got the jokes" of the Nurse's lines in "Romeo and Juliet" because he'd taught them to appreciate and enjoy Shakespeare - sometimes even when their classmates were left befuddled.
"The thing about Shakespeare is, once you get into, it's just English," McKerrow said as I unknowingly triggered his lecture mode. "If the actor and director know what the hell they're doing, you should never not understand it."
Thus, when it came time for a second season, and "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Barron Collier seemed like a perfect fit. Shakespeare in Paradise gave away more than 250 free tickets to students interested in seeing the production. More than 50 young people were involved in the show in a variety of roles, from acting to sets to costuming to backstage crew. Students even ran the lights and sound each night under the guidance of an experienced adult. Shakespeare in Paradise also donated part of its proceeds to Barron Collier's drama department.
This year, the Collier County School District sought a more formalized arrangement that would have required the theater group to pay rent and other fees for use of the auditorium. Rental fees published on the Collier schools website quote a rate of $173 per hour for the BCHS auditorium. McKerrow estimated it would have cost his group about $10,000 "just to walk in the door."
McKerrow bears no ill will toward the Collier County School District. He acknowledges that the district must play fair toward everyone who wants to rent or use its facilities - and says that school officials tried to work with him as much as they could.
Still, he does regret that the nascent - and successful - partnership seems to be on hold, at least for now.
"I'm a little disappointed that we can't help the education system of Collier County a bit more," he lamented. "Shakespeare in a school seems to go together."
Shakespeare in Paradise will perform this spring in the Rees Meeting Room at the Naples branch of the Collier County Public Library on Central Avenue. McKerrow is careful to say that the show is not a library production; his group is simply using the space.
The 120-seat space is a far cry from Barron Collier's capacious auditorium. It also lacks other amenities associated with a theater, like stage curtains, changing rooms or even space for sets, although Mckerrow says "we'll rig something up."
Instead of regarding what he won't have, McKerrow prefers to examine what he gains. He calls the move a "positive" change for his company, one that will allow a smaller corps of actors to focus on telling a great story each night.
"It's going to be fun," he declared, adding "There's a need for what we're doing here in Southwest Florida.
"The Taming of the Shrew," directed by Randall Kenneth Jones, transports Padua to Port Royal, setting the action in "a conservative, affluent beach community somewhere in the tropics."
"The name of Baptista's house [the father of Katharina, the titular shrew] will be 'Royal Port,'" McKerrow said, repeatedly promising "fun Shakespeare."
Jones, who first broached the idea of moving the show to a contemporary setting, admits to preferring the smaller space.
"I was inspired simply by walking in the room," he said.
McKerrow also believes the intimate atmosphere will help the show, especially a comedy like "Shrew." The crowd may even get to participate in the show in some way.
"The audience is going to feel like they're a part of the action," McKerrow said.
Full Disclosure: Randall Kenneth Jones, an actor who has appeared with the Naples Players, Shakespeare in Paradise and the Marco Players, writes a column, titled "Business Class," for the Business section of the Daily News. His firm, MindZoo, has also done marketing, graphics and public relations work for several local theatre companies. Jones was also briefly affiliated with Leadaloft, a now-defunct business website founded by former Naples Daily News publisher Chris Doyle.