Shakespeare Actors

Pictured is a scene from last year’s staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” last June in Vermillion’s Prentis Park as part of the annual South Dakota Shakespeare Festival. Actors delighted the audience, young and old, with slapstick comedy, teenage antics, music, magic and fantasy and playfulness.

Even in unprecedented times like the world is facing now, the show will go on in some form. At least, that’s the desire of officials with the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival (SDSF), who just hired Brian Smallwood, a professor at James Madison University in Virginia and a seasoned production manager, to serve as the new Director of Operations and Production (DOP) for the non-profit organization.

Like many area organizations, the SDSF has had to rethink their plan for this year’s celebration, but they have moved forward with long-term planning.

“In light of current circumstances, and taking cues from the SD Board of Regents, State of South Dakota, Center for Disease Control, the City of Vermillion, and peer theatre companies across the country, we have decided to cancel our 2020 face-to-face SDSF programs,” said Chaya Gordon-Bland, artistic director of the SDSF. “This action is in order to protect the health and well-being of our artists, audience members, and overall community.”

In lieu of face-to-face programming this year, the SDSF is hoping to offer a virtual experience.

“We have full-length film versions of two of our past productions, ‘The Taming of the Shrew (2014),’ and last summer's ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream,’” said Gordon-Bland. “We are looking into the possibility of streaming or broadcasting these productions, as well as other virtual programs we may be able to offer.”

This year, because the organization had been focused on hiring a director of operations, the SDSF was not planning to mount a full-scale Shakespeare production in June. Instead, they were planning a week-long Shakespeare festival to happen in May. Obviously, that festival won’t happen now, but instead, the organization will focus on coming back next year better than ever.

“We look forward to coming back strong with an amazing face-to-face festival in 2021,” said Gordon- Bland. “In the meantime, audiences can stay connected to us via our website (www.sdshakespearefestival.org) and Facebook page. “

It’s a strange time to come into this new position, admits Smallwood, but he’s excited to come to Vermillion when virus restrictions lift and to start working with the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival.

Smallwood is an associate professor and production manager for James Madison University’s School of Theatre and Dance in Virginia. His research interests include structural engineering for production and increasing productivity through employee wellness. In his role as DOP for the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival, Smallwood will work in Vermillion during rehearsal and production and remotely during the rest of the year.

Smallwood has served as a technical director and production manager for dozens of Off and Off-Off Broadway companies. He co-founded a production company called No Time for Love Productions, with clients like the Ma-Yi Theater Company, New York Musical Festival, New York Photo Festival, and Second Stage.

He graduated from the Yale School of Drama in 2013 with an MFA in Technical Design and Production. His book, “Productivity Through Wellness for the Live Entertainment and Theatre Technician: Increasing Productivity, Avoiding Burnout, and Maximizing the Value of An Hour” is slated for release next month.

“Right now, I'm really looking forward to meeting the community,” said Smallwood of his new SDSF director of operations and production position. “Many talk about how theatre is a collaborative art form, but it's important to remember that the collaboration also extends to the audience, local government, and businesses. I can't wait to listen and learn about how I can better serve SDSF and thus Vermillion. … I feel very fortunate to be selected for this role by SDSF, and that I can't wait to get to work!”

Smallwood applied for the DOP position because he likes to stay active in the field, he said.

“As an educator, it's important to me that I continue to work professionally to ensure that what I'm teaching stays relevant,” he said. “That's how I started looking for outside projects, and how I found the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival (SDSF). Once I applied, I met Chaya, and the board of directors, and they blew me away with their integrity, spirit, and vision. That really cemented my goal to join the team.”

He and Gordon-Bland are looking forward to a time beyond the virus when the drama remains on the stage.

In the meantime, says Gordon-Bland, “We would like to send positive, healthy, healing, wishes to everyone at this time. We stand in solidarity with people in our community and across the globe, as we face today's unique challenges together with patience, resilience, and strength. We look forward with joyful anticipation and hope to creating live theatre in a shared space with our beautiful community in the near future.”

Find out more about Smallwood and the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival at www.SDShakespearefestival.org.

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