“Let’s Set the Place on Fire!”

Or, What is the “Ren Season” and Why is it so Daring?

Things you should not do in a theatre:

  • Yell, “Fire!”

Okay…probably there are more. We should review our insurance policies.

Artistically speaking, though: bring it on. Anything goes! Especially during the Ren Season.

This week kicks off the Actors’ Renaissance Season, affectionately known as the “Ren Season.” We’ve put on a Ren Season every year since 2005 in the world’s only re-creation of the Blackfrairs Playhouse.

So, what is it?

The recipe is something like this:

  • 1 part Shakespeare -or- Early Modern -or- Restoration -or- Contemporary play*
  • 12 parts acting troupe (be sure to have seasoned ASC veteran actors)
  • Research about Shakespeare’s rehearsal process and performance conditions

Mix for 48 hrs. Enjoy, piping hot, right there in the theatre on a cold winter’s day!

Did you catch what’s missing from that Paleo-powered, gluten-free recipe? You know, all the usual stuff, such as:

  • …an outside director
  • …an outside costume designer or makeup artist
  • …an outside choreographer or sound director
  • …a lighting designer, animal wrangler, paparazzi, bodyguards, etc., etc. (No one is an “etc.” around here, but the emphasis — as the season’s name suggests — is on the actors.)

In the Ren Season, we take performing using Shakespeare’s “lights on” staging conditions one step further and re-create his rehearsal conditions as well. Our 12 actors have about 48 hours and sometimes use only cue scripts to prep. We believe it brings back some of the on-your-feet-urgency and rawness of Shakespeare’s work.

Oh, those actors. Instead of living their coddled lives loafing about dressing up and repeating lines (joking guys, joking!), the actors have to DO.SO.MUCH. They have to do it in, like, practically no time, too.

Patrick Midgley, who plays Caliban in The Tempest during Ren Season, explains it well:

If anything, the Ren Season is so demanding it reveals how deft the actors are at managing multiple roles (literally and figuratively). If there’s any doubt about acting not being a “real job,” come to the Ren Season. The shows reveal the skill and craft demanded of every performer as they shift between stagecraft, musical interludes, and, well, artistic choices with only one known boundary: “don’t light a fire in here.”

In short: it’s amazing. Actors do things they don’t normally do, and they apply their brilliance to great plays, some rarely or never seen by modern audiences.

That’s why the Ren Season is one of the most highly anticipated seasons of the year.

Put on your coat and hat. Here’s what’s playing.