Kent State theater professors Courtney Brown and Amy Fritsche, who have toured their play "Aim'd So Near" internationally in the last several years, see the new BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival as the perfect way to bring their work to Northeast Ohio audiences for the first time.

The two-woman play was created in Northeast Ohio, after all, back when Brown and Fritsche came up with the idea of creating a play based on some of Shakespeare's secondary female characters whose actions propel the tragic plots.

"Amy and I, I guess selfishly, wanted something to work on. We're all actors and directors and theater makers and shakers,'' Brown, an associate professor of voice and acting, said of the project's genesis.

Her concept for the play was sparked by the character of the nurse from "Romeo and Juliet," Angelica, about whom Shakespeare actually gives little information in his text.

"[Who] are some other women from Shakespeare's canon who are kind of in the background but play really, really pivotal roles in terms of the forward action of the main plot?" Brown asked in 2016.

They came up with "Emilia," Iago's wife and Desdemona's servant from "Othello." She follows her jealous husband's orders by taking Desdemona's dropped handkerchief to her husband, which sets off a chain of treachery against Desdemona's husband, the Venetian general Othello.

Next, the women enlisted the help of their Cleveland-area theater friend, playwright Catie O'Keefe, to write a new, two-woman play based on their concept. O'Keefe has a masters in playwriting from Royal Holloway University of London and served as playwright in residence for Gin in the Theatre Co. in the United Kingdom. O'Keefe, former development director at Cleveland Public Theatre, moved to Florida last year.

Back in 2016, O'Keefe began writing some preliminary scenes and continued to develop the play, created under her Shark Eat Muffin Theatre Co.

"They were very trusting and they gave me a lot of freedom, which as a playwright was really nice,'' O'Keefe said of cohorts Brown and Fritsche.

Brown became the director of the play, then called "Best Intentions," Fritsche took on the role of Emilia and Jess Tanner, an acting student in Kent's MFA program at the time, assumed the part of Angelica. They performed the show at the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival before Fritsche and Tanner toured it in London and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

They put the play to rest until about six months ago, when it was accepted at Cleveland's new BorderLight festival. The play has been revised and renamed "Aim'd So Near."

Tanner now lives in Chicago, so the women did a read-through of the new script by phone and rehearsed remotely before running their first rehearsal on the ground together July 15 in Northeast Ohio.

"What a great opportunity to bring the show home and have it done in Cleveland, where it was born,'' O'Keefe said.

The inaugural Borderlight Festival — co-founded by Cleveland-area theater artists Dale Heinen and Jeffrey Pence — will feature 100 theatrical performances and events from Playhouse Square to Public Square, featuring 40 productions on 14 stages. More than 100 participating artists hail from Bolivia, Canada, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea, Syria and the United States.

The four "Aim'd So Near" collaborators, who are all in their late 30s and early 40s, said their goal has been to make clearer what the play's story is about and to also reflect in the tale some shared themes in their own personal lives.

"The story really for us is about these two women struggling to confront their past in order to move forward,'' Brown said. "Catie has used these two characters as a jumping-off point and infused in a really, really structurally brilliant way Shakespeare's text into our story."

Emilia and Angelica find themselves in a sort of purgatory, which they can't leave until they figure out why they're there. Together, they work to piece together their memories in an effort to uncover the secrets keeping them trapped. The women go in and out of iambic pentameter as playwright O'Keefe weaves in in new ways all of their original lines from Shakespeare's plays.

Without the steps that each of these women took, neither of the tragedies would have happened.

"If the nurse hadn't gone and done what Juliet asked, which was to go find out his [Romeo's] name, then it wouldn't have happened," Brown said of the star-crossed lovers' tragedy.

"Aim'd So Near" is recommended for ages 14 and up. Knowledge of "Romeo and Juliet" and "Othello" is helpful but the playbill includes a short description of where characters Emilia and Angelica come from.

Along with nearly 30 original shows in Cleveland's first fringe festival, the BorderLight festival also will feature the international touring productions "Creatures" by Roger Titley of South Africa, "Under Construction" by Davai Theatre Group of Israel and "Silent" by Fishamble: The New Play Company of  Ireland.

For the CLE + International portion of the festival, professional Cleveland theater companies will collaborate with international artists on these shows: Cleveland Playhouse and Mexican playwright Javier Malpica for "Our Dad Is in Atlantis,'' Cleveland Public Theatre and Bolivian director Diego Aramburo for the original work "STEP," Cleveland Public Theatre and South Korean director Hyeja Ju for the original work "Good at Heart," Karamu House featuring Canadian playwright Lisa Codrington's "The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God,'' and Dobama Theatre sponsoring Syrian playwright Mudar Alhaggi's "When Farah Cries."

For a complete schedule for the four-day festival, see www.borderlightcle.org.

 

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.