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Pandemic births Rogue Valley Plague Theatre Company

Collaborative Theatre Project Director Susan Aversa-Orrego has teamed up with Shakespeare scholar Geoff Ridden to form the Rogue Valley Plague Theatre Company.

At 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, members of the company read and post Shakespeare sonnets on Facebook. About 500 people have joined the group worldwide. About 25 people have performed sonnets, which have been read in order. Sonnet 1 was posted March 30. I visited with Aversa-Orrego and Ridden by telephone.

EH: What’s the inspiration for this theater company?

GR: We’re all locked away, not able to do theater. Obviously, we wanted to keep active, doing something, having a project. We thought it would be a neat idea to do one sonnet every day at 8 o’clock, and to go live on Facebook. You either read the sonnet, or have somebody else read it, while you read along quietly at home.

SAO: It’s to be as creative as you want to be during this time of stress. We just want to keep it light and have a creative outlet for some people — to have something for people to look forward to. It’s an outlet, because we all know that actors do what they do (oftentimes) for free, because it’s something important to them. This is for fun. We have people who are doing them very beautifully and profoundly and seriously. Some of us are just being lighthearted and silly. So, however you choose to do it, there’s no wrong way in doing it. What’s been really lovely is that people are cheering each other on and working together.

The Plague Theatre is not a place to debate lengthy scholarship concepts, or “Who really did write the plays, Shakespeare or Marlow?” As time has passed, we have turned Shakespeare into this mythical being, almost like a god to some people. Shakespeare was a human being who lived in difficult times. He was an incredible writer and prolific playwright, but he was ultimately as human as you or I. This is just a simple place for people to come and be lighthearted, and enjoy each other’s company and feel connected.

EH: What is a sonnet?

GR: A sonnet is a 14-line poem, and usually there’s kind of a sting in the tail. The last four lines will overturn what was said in the first 10.

EH: What does this activity do for you personally?

SAO: In a time when we know we’re all very stressed, for me this has been a release and a respite from all of that. It’s finding a way to foster some kind of creativity and joy. I really like seeing how creative people are being. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We try to do the sonnets as well as we can, but people enjoy dressing up and having a bit of fun as well. It’s a bit of escapism when we can’t escape. It’s an attempt to remind people that we will be back. We are the theater community, and not even plagues can get us down.

EH: Is it best to go in at 8 o’clock?

GR: I’d go in slightly after 8. Because it gets fairly busy at that time, and it takes a few moments for each sonnet to download. But you’ll still be able to see them at 8:30.

EH: Will you do all 154 sonnets?

GR: I think that even when this lockdown is lifted, we’ll carry on doing it until October, when it finishes.

EH: You are inviting everyone to join in and participate?

GR: Absolutely. Yes.

To get to the Rogue Valley Plague Theater Company, go to Facebook and search for Rogue Valley Plague Theater Company. The Shakespeare sonnet for the day will be read.

Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director based in Ashland. To read more interviews with remarkable people, visit her blog at ashlandtheater.net. Email her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.

Susan Aversa-Orrego