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African-American Shakespeare Co.

African-American Shakespeare Co. returns to the Oakland stage with free weekend show

on October 6, 2021

Oakland is the newest playground for the African-American Shakespeare Company’s upcoming tour of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged, Revised.”

Coming to Jack London Square this Saturday, the play challenges three actors to perform 75 characters from 37 of the bard’s plays in just under an hour and a half. The Complete Works was slated to hit the stage in September 2020, but as COVID-19 devastated the theater industry, AASC joined many of the nation’s theater companies in pushing shows back. AASC Artistic Director L. Peter Callender says the timing for The Complete Works’ return is perfect.

“Right about now, we all need a laugh,” Callender said. “This is the right time, and the right place.”

For many in the company, Saturday’s performance will be like coming home, as a number of the artists are from the East Bay, said AASC Executive Director Sherri Young. 

Based in San Francisco, AASC has a 27-year history of bringing classic theater to diverse audiences and providing opportunities for actors of color to master roles written by Shakespeare and other notable playwrights. It also partners with schools, using theater to connect children to reading.

With The Complete Works, the company is launching a series of firsts since 2019: first touring production, first outdoor production, first Oakland performance, and first live performance.

When stage manager Lila Mullins was asked to do the show, her first question was: “How are we going to do this in the middle of a pandemic?” That question led to discussions about safety, and Mullins used the experience she picked up monitoring safety protocols for film and TV to become the show’s COVID-19 compliance officer.

“From day one, we talked to the doctors and made sure that everyone in the space felt really comfortable,” Mullins said. “The first tenet of stage management is keeping people safe.”

Mullins put guidelines in place to promote safety among the cast and crew. Everyone wore masks during rehearsals and agreed to frequent sanitizing, daily temperature checks, and weekly tests — all of which have come back negative, Mullins said.

Audiences will be expected to wear masks and will be seated at least 15 feet from the onstage antics. Alameda County health officials encourage people who are feeling sick to refrain from gatherings altogether and get tested.

The company launched its tour in early October at the Chase Center in San Francisco. The noon show at Jack London Square is free and — just like in Shakespeare’s day — seats are first-come, first-served. 

“You can go and get an early lunch,” Young said, “and walk over to the main entrance where we’ll be doing the show.”

The story was published in collaboration with The Oaklandside.

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