The show goes on at LB Shakespeare Company

Lit slams, a name change and a season of villains feature in the theater’s plans.

It will be a year in November since Helen Borgers, original artistic director of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company (LBSC), passed away after an extended illness. But, the theater has continued with the performances she planned for this year and has some new developments in the works.

Courtesy LB Shakespeare Company
Photos courtesy LB Shakespeare Company
Brandon Cutts, artistic
The late Helen Borgers, former artistic director of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company

ASL slams
Beginning Sept. 7, LBSC will host a series of American Sign Language (ASL) literature slams on the first Friday of each month for the remainder of the year. Spearheaded by Maxwell Bradney, a professional interpreter for the deaf, the slams are free of charge and don’t require a reservation.

“I had the idea for these ASL nights because I saw an opportunity to use the space on nights that it was not being used because of the ‘First Friday’ events that happen on Atlantic that make the theater too noisy,” Bradney told the Signal Tribune in an email exchange. “I thought that it would be a perfect opportunity to bring the beauty of ASL literature to our stage and create an outreach to the community, deaf and hearing.”

Producer Dana Leach told the Signal Tribune that Bradney had previously volunteered at LBSC, helping redo the theater lobby last year and doing live ASL interpretations during some of the theater’s radio plays, which Borgers had encouraged.

“It was something Helen always wanted,” Leach said of the enhanced communication access provided by the interpreters.

Bradney anticipates that most of the audience for the slams will be members of the deaf community, including hearing signers, but the events are open to all.

“If a hearing individual that doesn’t know ASL shows up, we have people there that can interpret for them,” Bradney said. “However, most of the actual performances won’t be interpreted because a lot of ASL poetry/literature gets lost in translation, so it’s best to just watch.”

Leach said that the non-verbal communication form of ASL could be eye-opening for those unfamiliar with it.

“It’s performance,” she said. “When the interpreters are actually performing, it looks like a dance.”

For the first ASL slam Friday, Bradney has prepared two pieces and has two other confirmed performers as of Wednesday.

“I see this event starting with performers who have pieces prepared taking up an hour or so,” he said. “Then, I will open the stage for anybody who wants to try their hand at performing. I hope that, as this [series] unfolds, audience members will feel inspired to step up and share at following events.”

Bradney hopes the slams will be embraced by the community.

“I want these events to be an open and safe space for ASL to flourish,” Bradney said. “I want this to be an exciting event for the local deaf community– which means any and all input by the community is welcomed.”

Name change
LBSC also has a near-term goal of changing the sign on the outside of its theater from “Richard Goad Theatre” to “Helen Borgers Theatre” in recognition of Borgers’s dedication.
“Richard Goad had given seed money to open the theater,” Leach said. “[But] for 16 years, Helen kept it going and thriving. It was her life.”

The Richard Goad Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Ave. is the home of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company, which plans to rename the theater after the late Helen Borgers, its original artistic director.

The company has raised about $1,200 since June by collecting patron donations before performances, but it needs $5,000, because the outdoor signage area needs to be brought up to code before a new sign can be installed.

“It needs to be safe for the patrons and safe for the theater,” Leach said.
She said LBSC hoped to have the new signage up by the end of October, depending on whether it can secure the remaining $3,800.

“Halloween was Helen’s favorite holiday,” she said. “So, we’d like to have the sign up by then, in her honor, at her favorite time of year.”

Halloween night also marked LBSC’s first production in October 2002– Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds radio play– which has become a traditional offering ever since. This year, the theater will also perform Frankenstein and The Horla and the Hitch-Hiker as October radio plays.

LBSC will then culminate its season with a staged version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight after Thanksgiving. A final radio play, A Christmas Carol, will be produced in December.
Though Borgers’s passing has been difficult, Leach said that LBSC now has a full board of directors and an advisory board that includes actress Gina Rodriguez and actor Joe LoCicero.

“It’s good, because it means we’re still going,” she said. “I think we’re stronger than we were.”

But, the theater, like all the arts, is always struggling, Leach said.

“It costs a lot of money to do what we do,” she said, referring not just to production costs but utilities and rent. “It takes a lot of people to stand behind an organization and hold it up on their shoulders.”

Leach said LBSC is thus pleased it can complete Borgers’s envisioned season of “Seldom-Seen Shakespeare.” Audiences also still hear a recording of Borgers’s voice before performances that welcomes them and reminds them to silence their cell phones.

“It’s hard for a lot of us,” Leach said. “But, her presence is everywhere in that place.”

New season
Looking ahead to 2019, new artistic director Brandon “Brando” Cutts has planned a season of performances highlighting villains. His vision includes attracting younger audiences to the theater, particularly millennials in their 20s and 30s.

Courtesy LB Shakespeare Company
Brandon Cutts, artistic director of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company
“I want to do stuff that appeals to them,” he told the Signal Tribune. “Spooky, scary, dangerous, […] but having fun with the blood and gore.”

The 2019 season, “A Year of Villains,” will include staged productions of Othello, Titus Andronicus and Doctor Faustus, but it will also follow the same structure as past seasons, including a Sherlock Holmes radio play in January in honor of the fictitious detective’s birthday month, a Shakespeare radio play in April in honor of the playwright’s birthday and the October radio plays.

“I see [the theater] as an opportunity for the people of Long Beach to get a different type of culture than what’s sold them,” Cutts said, referring to more typical weekend-night activities, such as bar hopping, instead of experiencing art, of which he says Long Beach has many options.

Along with directing and acting in some of the planned productions, Cutts said he is adapting two of Shakespeare’s poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, as radio plays.

“It’s a big gamble,” he said. “This company has never done these before.”
But, Cutts said offering potentially challenging material was part of Borgers’s vision.
“She felt language is devolving,” he said. “So, it’s up to us to maintain a level of expectation for our audiences and not dummy things down.”

Cutts began working with LBSC when he was in high school, as Borgers’s mentee through a theater internship, and has been with the company ever since, participating in over 60 LBSC productions. He stepped in as director when Borgers fell ill last year.

“The second we knew [her illness] was terminal, I moved from LA to take care of her in hospice,” he said.

After Borgers passed, LBSC determined it would continue her planned 2018 season with Cutts at the helm. He was officially appointed artistic director in July.

“I’m trying to fill big shoes here,” Cutts said. “I do very much miss her. Especially when I’m directing– I feel her guiding hand.”