Gritty City Repertory Theater creates a 1970’s-style Shakespeare for young Oakland performers
on May 18, 2015
For Oakland’s artists, The Flight Deck, an arts and performance venue, is an open home. But for one theater group in particular, the space means much more than that. Tucked away in the back of The Flight Deck, Gritty City Repertory Theater prepares for their newest play, while its founder, Lindsay Krumbein, is preparing to play the role of company manager, ticket seller and costume designer.
Krumbein founded the group in 2012 after an 11-year career as an English and drama teacher, starting drama programs at public schools in San Francisco and Oakland. She then decided to create her own youth theater company for Oakland. “One of the things that I discovered early on was that kids really loved doing plays, doing Shakespeare,” said Krumbein. “It was sort of the great equalizer, since nobody understood it.”
Krumbein strongly believes that theater should not be read, but acted. During her childhood, her family spent many summers going to Oregon’s Ashland Shakespeare Festival to watch at least five plays each time. She wanted to pass on her love of Shakespeare and theater to the young actors, so each fall, Gritty City puts on a modern play, while in spring, it’s always a Shakespearian play.
Now, less than two weeks before opening night, the group is getting ready to perform their sixth play, Shakespeare’s comedy “Much Ado About Nothing”—but this time with a twist. In this version, Shakespeare’s heroes and heroines find themselves in 1970s America, exchanging their Italian garb for platform shoes and Afros. Krumbein uses her design skills to alter vintage clothes to make the costumes.
For this play, there are 13 young actors ranging from ages 14 to 22 who come from different parts of Oakland. One of the actors, Maurice Jones Jr., has been with Gritty City Rep since their second show, Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” This time, Jones will take on the role of Claudio, a young soldier who falls in love with a maiden, but is tricked by his fellow soldiers into thinking that she has been unfaithful to him.
His Gritty City experience “brought me back to acting,” said Jones, who used to act in elementary school but stopped when he moved from Kansas City, Missouri, to Oakland. “I really wanted people to be proud of me and to really say I was good at something, because growing up, I was always felt like I couldn’t do anything.” For Jones, the experience transformed his life, from being a shy kid who feels that he once would have had difficulty doing this very interview, to a confident young high school graduate and actor. Jones, along with two other members of the group, was selected in a nationwide contest to attend the two-week Oregon Shakespeare Summer Seminar. Only 65 students were chosen from the entire country.
“My dedication here made me realize that I can stay dedicated to what I want to do,” said Jones, whom Krumbein considers one of the core company members. “I’ve had a blast with Gritty City, and it makes me feel like I can really achieve anything.”
To raise awareness about the program, Krumbein does outreach to her network of public school teachers, counselors and administrators. These people work to identify students who would be ideal candidates for the program—students who are bright, sharp and want to work, as well as some who need community support. “We get very tight and it’s this really close group that you can depend on for a whole variety of things—concrete things like bus fare, and food and recommendations and a ride, and less concrete things like counsel academic support, love,” said Krumbein. “You know, just being present—a safe space, really.”
Krumbein’s work taught Jones invaluable lessons he plans to use in his life. “I’ve learned that in life you have to be dedicated to achieve, I learned that people will depend on you a lot,” he said. “I learned that no matter where you are, you will always meet good people and will always be able to capitalize on our abilities.”
“Much Ado About Nothing” starts on May 28 and runs through June 6. To learn more about Gritty City Repertory Theater and tickets for the show, click here.
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